Washington (CNN) – Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour had blunt words on CNN’s State of the Union about the conservative uprising that toppled a moderate Republican candidate in New York’s 23rd Congressional District.
“They should’ve had a primary,” the former Republican National Committee chairman said of the ill-fated decision by local party leaders in upstate New York to anoint Dede Scozzafava as the establishment choice in Tuesday’s special election.
Many conservatives disagreed that Scozzafava was the right fit for the conservative district and conservative Republican Doug Hoffman decided to mount a challenge to her as the candidate of New York’s Conservative Party.
With polls showing her lagging behind Hoffman and her Democratic opponent and without sufficient fundraising to defend against attacks coming from both ends of the political spectrum, Scozzafava made the surprise announcement Saturday that she was dropping out of the special election in the longtime Republican district.
Barbour described Scozzafava as having been “endorsed by six or seven people” in the local party leadership. And the Mississippi governor faulted the New York Republican Party chairman at the time for “letting a handful of people pick somebody who is not just a liberal Republican - she’s more liberal than many of the Democrats.
“But that’s not the issue,” Barbour continued, “The issue is that people didn’t get a choice and so they didn’t feel beholden to [Scozzafava].“They should’ve had a primary. They should have let Republicans choose who they wanted to have as their nominee instead of it being inside baseball, smoke-filled room – the kind of stuff that we’ve all tried to get rid of.”
Stressing the diversity in the Republican Governors Association which he also chairs, Barbour echoed earlier comments from House Minority Leader John Boehner.
“We are a big party just like the Democrats are and in a two-party system, both parties are necessarily coalitions,” Barbour told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King.
Barbour also weighed in on the upcoming gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia.
In general, Barbour said, the two gubernatorial races tend to be more about statewide issues and the individual candidates rather than national politics. But Barbour said that national issues appeared to be playing a particular role in the Virginia race and helping the Republican candidate Bob McDonnell.
“I think it’s a great overstatement to say this a referendum on President Obama,” Barbour told King, “but his policies have had a lot of effect on people’s thinking.”
Barbour also said Sunday that the current political climate in 2009 reminded him of 1993, the year before Republicans took control of the House of Representatives under the leadership of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.