From dynamic presidential hopefuls such as Rep. Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain to rank-and-file party activists from across the country, Republicans who gathered in New Orleans Friday all pledged their fealty to the cause of defeating President Barack Obama in 2012.
herman_cain_rlc.jpgView full sizePatrick Semansky, The Associated PressRepublican presidential hopeful Herman Cain speaks at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans on Friday.
But Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a former national party chairman, delivered a stern warning to Republican Leadership Conference delegates: Don't look for perfection in the potential nominees and don't even think about drafting a third-party candidate when the nomination fight is done.
"Don't get hung up on purity," he said. "In politics, purity is a loser. ... In this business, it is unity that wins elections. ... Barack Obama has worn out three sets of knee pads down his knees praying for the tea party to become a third party, because he can't lose."
Barbour, who has already announced that he isn't running for president, didn't call any of the announced candidates by name. But the warning was clearly a recognized party elder trying to navigate the disparate movements on display at the three-day conference that culminates Saturday with the announcement of a straw poll of more than 2,000 delegates.