“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing,” Mississippi governor Haley Barbour said this morning to an audience at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “And the main thing is economic growth and job creation.”

Barbour, a potential Republican candidate for president in 2012, was speaking to business leaders about his own leadership on business and economic issues in Mississippi over the last eight years. He spoke largely about the state’s business-friendly regulatory climate and support for workforce training, which has made the Magnolia State an attractive location for high tech manufacturing operations from corporations like Toyota and GE.

“Our goal was to create more high-skill, high-paying jobs,” Barbour said. “We haven’t given up on manufacturing in my state.”

The speech sounded like a campaign stump speech, one reporter remarked to Barbour outside the breakfast meeting.

“It was the right speech for what [the Chamber is] talking about, which is increasing jobs,” Barbour said. But the governor more than once deflected from mentioning whether he would be entering the presidential race. Barbour has lost “a little weight” and hopes to lose more, he says, and he is “crazy” about Newt Gingrich, who is inching closer to a presidential run himself. But Barbour did not say a word about his own White House ambitions.

Asked by THE WEEKLY STANDARD about the president’s contentious relationship with the Chamber of Commerce, though, Barbour sounded relatively ecumenical and less like a primary candidate ready to attack Obama’s policies on the campaign trail.

“The Chamber of Commerce should be for what they consider good policy for economic growth and job creation in America,” Barbour said. “They recognize philosophically that market capitalism is the best economic system for far and away the most people, and so they want policies that support market capitalism, the rule of law. And that’s what they should be for. And when presidents regardless of party follow policies that are contrary to that or inimical to that, then they should oppose it.”

Read Andy Ferguson's profile of Barbour, "The Boy from Yazoo City," here.

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