Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour is in Iowa today, meeting privately with prominent Iowa Republicans as he ponders the prospect of running for president.

“I have been political director of the White House under Ronald Reagan,” Barbour told reporters this morning after meeting with Republican Governor Terry Branstad.  “I understand what I’m getting into.” 

Barbour said at the age of 63, he has to determine if he’s ready to dedicate the next decade of his life to the intensity of presidential politics. 

“If you run and get elected, you’re committing yourself for reelection and so you’ve got to be prepared for a 10-year commitment and that’s the majority of the rest of my productive life,” Barbour said. “And you have to decide: ‘Am I willing to take on the most consuming job in the world, which the presidency is?’ And I have to see if I’ve got the fire in the belly and the willingness, to the exclusion of all other things, to take that on.” 

Barbour was elected governor of Mississippi in 2003 and reelected in 2007. His current term expires at the end of 2011 and he cannot run for reelection, which means he would be out of office in 2012 — the next presidential election year. According to Barbour, being governor is the job that’s “closest” to being president.

“Not the same, by any stretch of the imagination,” Barbour told reporters. “There is no job like president, but as governor I’ve not only had to deal with reducing entitlement spending — something that’s got to be done nationally — but I’ve also had to deal with real crisis with (Hurricane) Katrina, when the south half of my state was largely obliterated.” Barbour said he’d be willing as president to tackle a range of controversial topics, including cuts in farm subsidies and defense spending.

Barbour told reporters today he won’t make a final decision about running for president until later this spring.

“The legislature’s finished and we’ve got my budget adopted and I don’t believe in running for the next job ’til I finish the job I’ve got,” Barbour said, “and so that’s why my timing is April.” 

Barbour will be back in Iowa in mid-March for a speech in the Quad Cities.  Today, Barbour spoke at a private luncheon fundraiser in Des Moines. He met with three Iowa Republicans who were elected to statewide office this past November, as well as G.O.P. legislators and other Iowa Republican Party insiders.  

Barbour speaks with reporters for 7.15 minutes: HaleyBarbour