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MS Gov. Haley Barbour won’t run for president

Barbour’s out — and that may help Tim Pawlenty more than most.

WASHINGTON — Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, saying he doesn’t have the full fire in his belly to set aside the next ten years to a presidential campaign and two possible terms, today said he won’t run for president in 2012.

Barbour is known as a prolific fundraiser, a former lobbyist who became an insider favorite though questions persisted about his ability to expand politically beyond his roots in the south. That said, he hadn’t really made an impression in the early states there yet, polling at just 2 percent in a South Carolina poll released this morning.

And while all prospective candidates will be looking to see how that news affects them, Tim Pawlenty may find some reason to be happier at the news than most.

The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake (a native Minnesotan, by the way) wrote today (before Barbour’s decision was made known) that Pawlenty’s path is eased by the sort of look-what-I-did-as-governor candidates deciding not to run. He quoted an unnamed strategist saying that “the establishment likes Pawlenty, but they really like [Haley] Barbour and they love [Indiana Gov. Mitch] Daniels.”

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Much further down the road, Pawlenty will be on a short list of candidates seriously vying for Barbour’s endorsement, and there are some connections between the two. They worked together at the Republican Governors Association, and Pawlenty’s campaign manager, Nick Ayers, was the head of that organization under Barbour’s chairmanship.

Also on that staff connection front, though slightly more tenuously, Barbour’s (now former) campaign manager was Rob Collins, who used to head up the American Action Network alongside former Sen. Norm Coleman, who in turn is strongly backing Pawlenty.

Update: Pawlenty is the first GOP 2012 candidate out of the gate with a statement on Barbour, in which he makes sure to note the “privilege” he had of serving as vice chairman of the RGA under Barbour.

The statement: “Nobody has done more than Haley to build the Republican Party over the last three decades, including last year, when I had the privilege to be his vice chairman at the Republican Governors Association. He is one of the Republican Party’s great leaders and an outstanding Governor for Mississippi. When Republicans defeat Barack Obama next year, it will be thanks to the solid party foundation Haley helped build. We wish he and Marsha the best and thank them for all that they do for their state, their Nation, and the Republican Party.”