Barbour on Gingrich: "I'm Crazy About Him"

| Tue Mar. 1, 2011 1:19 PM EST

Former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich has decided to form a presidential exploratory committee this week, taking his first official step toward running for president. ABC News broke this news on Tuesday morning, following months of speculation about Gingrich's intentions. Though he's toyed with running for president for decades, Gingrich has never actually followed through.

The move will make Gingrich the highest-profile Republican to announce his intention to challenge Obama. But it's unclear how he'll fare in the Republican field, drawing only 12 percent support among Iowa Republicans and 6 percent in New Hampshire, as Talking Points Memo notes. But the Georgia Republican elicited unabashed praise from at least one fellow Southern legislator: Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Miss.). "I'm crazy about him," Barbour told reporters, exiting a congressional hearing on health care on Tuesday. 

Barbour held back, though, from making any prognostications about the Republican primary. When asked about how Gingrich stacked up against the other likely 2012 candidates, the governor replied: "Depends on who runs."

Speculation has also swirled about a potential presidential bid by Barbour himself. But in recent months, Barbour's racially insensitive remarks about civil rights and the Ku Klux Klan seemed to downgrade his chances of a run. That being said, an endorsement from Barbour could be a factor in a candidate's ability to solidify Southern support, so expect Barbour to remain in the spotlight as the Republican contest limps forward.

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