BARBOUR PASSES ON 2012 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN…. In a surprise move, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), the all-but announced 2012 presidential candidate, announced this afternoon that he will not run after all. From the official statement:

“I will not be a candidate for president next year. This has been a difficult, personal decision, and I am very grateful to my family for their total support of my going forward, had that been what I decided.

“Hundreds of people have encouraged me to run and offered both to give and raise money for a presidential campaign. Many volunteers have organized events in support of my pursuing the race. Some have dedicated virtually full time to setting up preliminary organizations in critical, early states and to helping plan what has been several months of intensive activity.

“I greatly appreciate each and every one of them and all their outstanding efforts. If I have disappointed any of them in this decision, I sincerely regret it.”

Barbour wasn’t just flirting with a possible candidacy; he was, for all intents and purposes, already a candidate. He just wrapped up a campaign swing through New Hampshire; he’s spent plenty of time in Iowa; he’s been pandering shamelessly to right-wing extremists; he’d started drawing distinctions with other primary rivals; he had a fundraising apparatus in place; and he’d even begun lining up top-tier campaign staffers. The question wasn’t whether Barbour would run; it was when he’d formally launch.

And yet, today he walked away.

For the record, I think Barbour has made a very wise decision. He brought a credible resume to the table, and political reporters tend to adore the guy. I’ve long assumed Barbour would have the resources needed to be relatively competitive for much of the nominating process, with an ability to even be a top-three candidate in some states. When thinking of names of second-tier candidates who had a shot at reaching the top tier, it made sense to at least keep an eye on Barbour.

But there’s limited national appeal for a corporate lobbyist best known for saying things that make him look like a racist.

The truth of the matter is, there was no viable way for Barbour to actually win the White House. He could have been credible, and had the capacity to appeal to various Republican factions, but there was simply no way he’d become president of the United States.

Perhaps that became clearer as he proceeded with his campaign.

Whatever the rationale, Barbour will remain as governor until the end of next year, and his presidential endorsement will probably be one of the more sought after among the remaining candidates.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.