Former Mississippi governor and Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour said there isn’t any doubt in his mind that Rick Perry is running for president again.

“Perry will run again,” Barbour told The RUN in a recent interview.   ”I don’t think there’s any question about it.”

Of all the potential 2016 presidential candidates that Barbour name-checked, he asserted the most certainty about the Texas governor’s plans.

At this early venture, Barbour also predicted the biggest difference between the 2012 and 2016 GOP nomination fight would be the quality of the field.

“A large, strong field is the difference between ’12,” he said.

Here is a lightly edited transcript of The RUN’s conversation with Barbour, who weighed a presidential bid of his own in 2012.

Catanese: Given the field we’re seeing emerge for 2016, do you think Republicans are heading towards another tough primary.  You see Rand and Christie and Rubio . . .

Barbour: Well, first of all, it is so far away from 2016.  Anyone who tries to predict is a fool. F-O-O-L. Ok?

Catanese: Well, I know, but I’m not talking about particulars . . .

Barbour: Secondly, it seems clear that our field for the Republican nomination will be much stronger than in ’12.

Catanese: Who do you include in that?

Barbour: You’ve got Christie, Rubio or Bush, theoretically both, Kasich.

Catanese: Kasich?

Barbour: Kasich, Walker, Jindal, Perry will run again.

Catanese: Perry’s running again you think?

Barbour: I don’t think there’s any question about it.  That’s before you ever talk about Paul Ryan.

Catanese: Right.  That’s a big primary field.

Barbour: It is a much stronger field than in ’12.  ’12 had a large but weak field. In ’16 we have a potential for a large but strong field.

Catanese: So how do you eliminate what you said the problem was, which is fighting to tongs . . . if you’ve got another big field and then you’ve got Hillary, doesn’t that put the Republican Party again at an inherent disadvantage, just structurally, no matter who the candidate is.

Barbour: Well, if I were running I would not want to be the candidate whose campaign platform is Barack Obama’s foreign policy record.

Catanese: And that you think will be Hillary.

Barbour: How can it not be?

Catanese: I want to ask you about Christie, given some of the comments you made.  You see conservatives out there in Iowa and some of these early states say Christie is not a real Republican because he palled around with Obama.  You think he can win a primary?

Barbour: Sure.

Catanese: How does he win Iowa and South Carolina?

Barbour: He wins them by having a great record in New Jersey.  Anybody who is familiar with the American government knows that if your state gets hit by a huge disaster, the federal government’s going to be your partner for the next two, three, five, ten years.  And so any governor who is trying to serve his state — and that’s his job — tries to makes sure that the working relationship with the federal government is conducive to a positive relationship to his state.  Bobby Jindal, same situation.  Haley Barbour, same situation with George Bush.  But that’s the reality of catastrophic disasters, that the federal government becomes your partner for years to come.

Catanese: What do you think of Rand Paul?

Barbour: I like him.

Catanese: You think he’s good for the party?

Barbour: Yeah, sure he is.

Catanese: Could he be the nominee or too tough a road?

Barbour:  Well, look, I think he seems clearly to be a candidate and let’s see how he does.  But again, he’s another element of, it’ll be a strong field.  Rick Santorum is another element that it’ll be a strong field.

Catanese: Really?  You don’t think he pushes the party into the social stuff, that hurts the branding, the big tent part of your argument?

Barbour: I think you have the whole big tent represented there.

Catanese: Is there a front-runner in your view, this early on?

Barbour: It doesn’t matter.  If someone’s the front-runner today, it’s irrelevant.

Catanese: You think that’s the same for Hillary?

Barbour: It’s not the same for Hillary because she’s a front-runner in 2016 like she’s a front-runner in 2008, however, she lost.

Catanese: She did.

Barbour: But she was a true front-runner then, she’ll be a true front-runner now.  We didn’t have a front-runner in 2012.  We had a weak field with no front-runner.

Catanese: So the biggest difference early is that it’s a big field but stronger field and that makes it so . . .

Barbour: A large, strong field is the difference between ’12.

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