ABC News’ Michael Falcone reports:
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour took his obligatory turn at hitting the Obama piñata at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday, but he did something else too: lavish praise on fellow Republicans, potential rivals and even one Democrat.
Barbour, who is laying the groundwork for a 2012 presidential campaign, offered kind words for several political figures who could be among his main rivals for the Republican presidential nomination if he — and they — ultimately decide to enter the race.
“I’ve watched Mitch Daniels give Indiana its first balanced budget in eight years, without raising taxes,” Barbour said of his fellow governor and friend who is also considering a presidential run and delivered a keynote speech at the same conference Friday night.
“Chris Christie has shown responsible spending cuts can be achieved even in an usually blue state like New Jersey,” he said, referring to another governor. Christie has said he is not running for president in 2012, but is regarded as a rising star in the party.
Barbour spent much of his speech on fiscal issues and even gave a shout-out to former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, who he said, has successfully cut spending.
If governors can do it, Barbour noted, “Congress can cut spending, too. And there’s plenty to cut.”
He lauded former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, another possible 2012 GOP contender, for focusing his speech to CPAC on Thursday on energy policy.
“Let’s talk about another growth killer you don’t hear about as much,” Barbour said. “The Obama energy policy and I am glad my old friend, Speaker Newt Gingrich, also talked to you about energy.”
(In his remarks, Gingrich recommended replacing the Environmental Protection Agency with what he called an “Environmental Solutions Agency.”)
"Just as ObamaCare will increase the cost of health care, the Obama energy policy is driving up the cost of energy," Barbour said, adding a warning: "American manufacturing would be crushed by Obama’s energy proposals."
Barbour also found a way to give a pat on the back to Sarah Palin. If Republicans offer a conservative vision heading into the next election cycle, “it will be embraced by Main Street business owners and Walmart mothers — by American workers, corporate executives and Mama Grizzlies.”
Notably not mentioned in Barbour’s speech — former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — who are all considering a bid for the GOP presidential nomination.
Barbour, who spoke quietly and slowly to a packed hotel ballroom on Saturday morning, received a favorable reception by the audience, especially when he held up liberals and the media as bogeymen. He accused them of describing conservatives, “especially tea party activists as somehow out of the mainstream — a bunch of unsophisticated know-nothings.”
“The leftish media says the tea party’s a problem for Republicans,” Barbour said, “Now, this is a case of the Left whistling past the graveyard.”
He called the policies of the Obama administration “reckless,” arguing that they have “brought America to a crossroads.”
“President Obama has tried to sound like Ronald Reagan for the last several weeks,” the governor said. “Reagan would recognize this ploy as just another play from the Democrat playbook: Fake up the middle, then run around left end.”