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Bryant launches lt. governor bid, calls Barbour ’visionary’

The two Republican candidates for lieutenant governor are scrambling to outdo each other in declaring their loyalty to the man who’ll be at the top of the ticket this fall, Gov. Haley Barbour.

In announcing his candidacy, Phil Bryant called the GOP’s Barbour “a great visionary.”

“We’re going to be the very best partner Haley Barbour ever had,” Bryant told about 50 supporters Monday at state Republican headquarters. “We’re going to work in a Republican-led Mississippi Senate.”

Bryant has been state auditor since 1996, after having served five years in the state House. He faces state Sen. Charlie Ross in the Republican primary.

Both men are from the GOP stronghold of Rankin County, which will be one of the keys to winning the party’s nomination.

Ross said he looks forward to “a spirited primary.”

“I welcome my friend, Phil, to this campaign and look forward to a healthy debate about how we, as Republicans, can support Gov. Barbour and bring conservative solutions to Mississippi’s problems,” Ross said in a news release.

So far, state Rep. Jamie Franks of Mooreville is the only Democrat running for lieutenant governor.

The current lieutenant governor, Republican Amy Tuck, can’t run again this year because of term limits.

March 1 is the deadline for candidates to file qualifying papers for a host of offices, from governor to county supervisor. Party primaries are Aug. 7, and the general election is Nov. 6.

The lieutenant governor presides over the 52-member state Senate and appoints the chamber’s committee chairmen — a power that largely determines which bills survive and how a governor’s agenda fares.

Bryant flew to several cities Monday and Tuesday to launch his campaign. His intentions, however, have been widely known for months in state political circles.

Gary Williams, 60, of Rankin County attended Bryant’s announcement in Jackson. Afterward, Williams said he has known Bryant about 18 years and is impressed with his background as an investigator and auditor.

“Anytime there’s a lot of money involved, there is room for crime. And I think he’s a good one to stop it,” said Williams, who is self-employed as a maker of fuel systems for NASCAR.

Barbour is expected to run unopposed for the party nomination for governor, and he says he has $3.5 million on hand. Only one Democrat — former state Sen. Bill Renick of Ashland — has filed qualifying papers to run for governor.

Bryant has about $500,000 on hand, his campaign said. A more specific figure will be available when he files documents showing how much he raised and spent in 2006.

Ross last week said his campaign starts this year with $835,000 on hand. Candidates face a Jan. 31 deadline to file campaign finance disclosure forms in the secretary of state’s office.