New Orleans, Louisiana (CNN) – Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour exhorted Republicans on Friday to put their ideological differences aside and rally around their eventual presidential nominee with the goal of defeating President Barack Obama in 2012.
"We are not going to have a perfect candidate," Barbour told the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. "There has only been one perfect person that has ever walked on this earth and there's not going to be one who runs for president in 2012."
Barbour, who seriously considered a presidential bid of his own but decided against running, urged Republicans not to "get hung up on purity." Democrats, he said, are eager to see Republicans squabble among themselves and open the door for President Obama to win re-election.
"In politics, purity is a loser," said Barbour, long regarded as one of the GOP's top strategists. Whoever wins the nomination, he said, will be "many multiples better than Barack Obama."
Barbour said the current rifts within the party - divisions that pit populist-minded candidates against those backed by the GOP establishment - are nothing new.
He told reporters after his speech that Americans want a president with "plain-spoken, common sense solutions," not an ideologue.
"People want a president who gets things done," he said. "They are tired of happy talk."
Barbour also said he expects other Republicans to join the 2012 race, a departure from the emerging consensus in Washington just weeks ago that the GOP field was settled.
Of course, that was before Sarah Palin's bus tour, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's campaign implosion and the sudden emergence of Texas Gov. Rick Perry as a credible potential candidate.
Barbour said there is a chance Perry will run and said he "would be a serious candidate" if he decides to join the nomination fight.
"I think people have several weeks to consider running, whether or not to run," Barbour said. "Obviously the better known, or the more access to resources a candidate has, the later that candidate can wait. I think there is still plenty of time and I think there are likely to be other candidates."
Asked if Palin could raise the kind of money to be competitive, Barbour chuckled in agreement.
"She could raise enough money to burn a wet mule," he said.