Barbour: GOP race taking attention from Obama

A Politico/George Washington University Battleground Poll of 1,000 likely voters released Monday shows that, as the Republican candidates continue to battle one another in the primaries, President Obama's approval rating has risen to 53 percent, up nine points since November. A third of the country believes the country is "on the right track" - still low, but twice what it was in November.

When asked about the rising support of the president, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour chalked it up to two factors: an over-hyped representation of the economy's recovery and a hectic race for the GOP nomination that is taking attention away from president and his policies.

"First of all, the economy is being ballyhooed by the administration and a lot of people in the media as if there's this great surge in the economy," Barbour said on "CBS This Morning." "Fortunately, there is a little improvement in the economy, but it's anemic. I mean, this is not a real recovery. You can still tell it on Main Street.

"And the other thing is, of course, when four Republican candidates are contesting each other for the nomination, a hard-fought race, attention is being taken away from Obama's policies and the results of those policies, which are mighty poor. And any time we're not talking about Obama's policies and the results of those policies, we're not talking about what's the best thing for Republicans in the election."

Assessing the current state of the race, Barbour said that if Mitt Romney does not win in Michigan Tuesday, it would be a "real setback."

"This is Romney's home state. He won it last time," Barbour told Charlie Rose. "If he were to lose in Michigan and then [Rick] Santorum, [Newt] Gingrich or both have a big day on Super Tuesday, then you could see an election that goes all the way to the [GOP] convention."

Barbour called such an event "an outside possibility" and reminded Rose that "it's still mighty early in the game."

Barbour was also asked about Rick Santorum's comments this weekend about a 1960 speech that then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy gave in which Kennedy said the separation of church and state in America is "absolute." It was a speech, Santorum said, that made him "throw up."

Barbour said he believed Santorum was questioning keeping faith out of politics. "We believe in separation of church and state," he said. "But we don't believe in freedom from religion. We believe in freedom of religion. We don't believe that if you're a Christian you can't be involved in politics. That's the Soviet Union where that used to be the law. In our country remember the civil rights movement was led by Catholic priests, by Jewish rabbis, by Protestant clergymen. ... I assume that's all that Rick Santorum was saying."

To watch the complete interview with Haley Barbour click on the video player above.