A staunch conservative who will make Mississippi "the most job-friendly state in America," Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant made his opening pitch to be the state's next Republican governor during a stop in Hattiesburg Monday.
Bryant accompanied by his wife, Deborah, spoke at Chain Electric Co., one of several small businesses across the state serving as a venue for his announcement Monday.
The choice, of course, was symbolic.
"We're focusing on economic development in this campaign. It is the sun in our universe and everything else rotates around it," he said.
Bryant was one of three candidates to officially enter the campaign to replace Gov. Haley Barbour, who is prevented by the state constitution from serving a third term.
Republican Dave Dennis of Gulfport and Democrat Bill Luckett of Clarksdale filed qualifying papers with their parties.
Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree is also expected to seek the Democratic Party nomination but has yet to qualify.
Bryant, 56, a University of Southern Mississippi graduate, promised to continue the job creation work of Gov. Haley Barbour, citing the recent groundbreaking of a clean coal gasification plant in Kemper County.
"Whether it's in DeSoto County or Kemper County or it's in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, it's all about creating businesses," he said.
Bryant also emphasized his conservative values throughout the seven-minute speech, quoting "his hero" Ronald Reagan and vowing to defend the Second Amendment and protect the state's borders against illegal immigration.
He saved his strongest words for Obamacare, stating that he will do everything in his power to stop President Barack Obama's healthcare legislation from coming to Mississippi.
The law "would add 300,000 Mississippians to the Medicaid roll in a state now that has over 600,000. That's nearly 1 million people on Medicaid in a state of 2.9 million," Bryant stated. "We cannot sustain that. Nor will we."
That was music to the ears of several supporters in attendance.
"Obamacare -- this stuff they're shoving down our throat. I'm glad that somebody will stand up and fight against it," said Jerry Hutcheson, a Jones County sheriff's deputy.
"I think he has the best chance of getting elected of anyone in my memory," said former Hattiesburg Mayor Bobby Chain, owner of the West Pine Street business.
Bryant's work ethic and character received high marks.
"One thing that you can say about Phil. He may not have the most money of any candidate in the field, but he will outwork you 10 to one," said Sen. Joey Fillingane R-Sumrall.
Retired physician Dr. Ben Carmichael, former president of the USM Foundation, said that he's known Bryant for years through university alumni affairs.
"I think he's just a good guy. I think he would make a great governor," he said.
Dennis, 57, who's president of a contracting company and is a former member of the Federal Reserve Board in New Orleans, said in a news release that he'll tour the state later to discuss his campaign.
At the Democratic Party headquarters in Jackson, Luckett, 62, said he wants to increase educational offerings in day-care centers as a step toward eventually developing a state-funded pre-kindergarten system -- one Luckett says the state can't currently afford. He also said he wants to promote renewable energy and increase tourism.
Luckett pointed to his experience in restoring old buildings to develop an upscale restaurant and a blues club in downtown Clarksdale. He said the sites now attract international tourists.
"I have a vision for how to fix things like that and make them productive," Luckett said. "That's what I want to take to the state."
Candidates' qualifying deadline is March 1. Party primaries are Aug. 2 and the general election is Nov. 8.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.