In the end, Haley Barbour managed to beat his Democratic competitor in the Mississippi gubernatorial race this fall. But for a time, it looked like the former Republican National Party chairman and master lobbyist might be permanently tarnished by the appearance of being linked to a white supremacist group.
Weeks before Barbour's Nov. 4 election victory, media reports swirled linking Barbour to the racist and anti-Semitic Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) — the same group that landed fellow fraternity brother and GOP politician Sen. Trent Lott (Miss.) in hot water after several Lott speeches at CCC meetings became public in 1999.
The CCC is the reincarnation of the White Citizens Councils that worked to quash the civil rights movement in the 1950s and '60s.
Barbour was widely criticized by Democrats and many community leaders after a photo of him and a top CCC leader at a CCC -sponsored July barbecue, held to raise money for private academy school buses, appeared on the CCC Web site.
The photo appeared alongside a squib calling for the release of neo-Nazi Ernst Zundel, co-author of The Hitler We Loved and Why, from a Canadian jail. Also on the site were articles attacking Martin Luther King Jr., denying the Holocaust, and calling women the "weakest link" in society and Latinos "two-legged coca roaches."
But Barbour declined to ask the CCC to remove the photo, saying he wouldn't try to control who used his picture. "Once you start down the slippery slope of saying, 'That person can't be for me,' then where do you stop?" he asked.
He did say that some of the CCC's views were "indefensible."
Many commentators accused Barbour of pandering to racists, also pointing out how Barbour emphasized his support for Mississippi's state flag, which includes a small reproduction of the Confederate battle flag.
And a New York Times Magazine article suggested that Barbour was playing the race card by repeatedly linking his Democratic opponent, incumbent Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, to Barbara Blackmon, the Democrats' African-American candidate for lieutenant governor. Although Barbour referred to a "Musgrove-Blackmon ticket," the two did not run as a ticket.
Barbour's strategy won him a 52% victory in what had been seen as a very tight race. He even managed to pull in about 10% of the state's minority vote.
Two incumbent Southern governors had already been severely punished for their stands against the Confederate battle flag: Republican David Beasley, who was ousted in 1998 by Democrat Jim Hodges, and Democrat Roy Barnes, who lost unexpectedly to Republican Sonny Perdue in 2002.
Musgrove, who had supported changing his state's flag, may have been the third to suffer.
But in the end, the CCC, which publicly took credit for Beasley's political demise, still wasn't happy with Barbour, who it said gave only "lip service" to the state flag. And, anyway, the CCC complained, "As background for his victory speech broadcast, Barbour surrounded himself with smiling blacks."