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Miss. candidates seek support at MEC Hobnob

The two nominees for Mississippi governor, Republican Phil Bryant and Democrat Johnny DuPree, each pledged to create a business-friendly atmosphere if elected next week to the state’s highest office.

They were among the politicians who spent part of Wednesday socializing with business and community leaders at Hobnob, a casual gathering sponsored by the state chamber of commerce, the Mississippi Economic Council.

Candidates gave speeches under a big white tent at the state Agriculture and Forestry Museum in Jackson. Hundreds of bankers, lawyers, manufacturing executives and other business people dined on catfish and other Mississippi specialties.

The general election is next Tuesday.

DuPree, speaking first, said he wants to lead Mississippi the way he has led Hattiesburg, where he has been mayor the past 10 years. He said he has made city government more efficient while attracting jobs and improving the quality of life.

“We put everyone together around the table and decided we wanted to have a better community,” DuPree said.

As DuPree stepped off the stage, he shook hands with Bryant, the first-term lieutenant governor. They hugged briefly.

Bryant said if he’s governor, he would not raise corporate taxes. He said he also would appoint a commission to study all the state’s regulatory agencies and he intends to get rid of regulations that hurt businesses.

Bryant, of Brandon, is completing one term as lieutenant governor. He said doing that job while Republican Haley Barbour is governor is like being an assistant under the late Bear Bryant, Alabama’s legendary former football coach. Bryant said he is not intimidated to succeed  Barbour.

“I’m going to carry that passion into this office,” Bryant said.

Speaking after Bryant and DuPree, Barbour implored hundreds in the audience to vote next Tuesday and to tell their families, friends, co-workers and fellow church members to vote, too.

Barbour noted that when he was elected in 2003, Mississippi had a record turnout for a gubernatorial election.

“It gave me a mandate,” Barbour said. “Nobody could say, ‘Oh, he backed in because people stayed home.”’

Steve Simpson of Gulfport, the Republican nominee for attorney general, used much of his speech Wednesday to criticize the two-term Democratic incumbent, Jim Hood. Simpson said Hood ignored corruption among lawyers who had been some of Hood’s financial backers.

Simpson also said of Hood: “He has chosen to run childish, cartoonish, negative attack ads against me and my family.”

Among other things, the Hood ads criticize Simpson’s travels, at public expense, when Simpson was commissioner of public safety from mid-2008 until early this year.

Hood, speaking moments after Simpson, ignored Simpson’s criticism. Instead, Hood said he has worked to protect children from online predators and the elderly from people who would abuse them or steal their identities.

Hood told the business audience that he has spent his career as a prosecutor. In one of his few references to Simpson, Hood said: “My opponent worked for a trial lawyer firm down on the coast.”