By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press
PEARL — A month after announcing that he wouldn’t run for president in 2012, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie paid a visit Thursday to Mississippi, where he urged Republicans to turn out next week to elect Phil Bryant as governor.
Christie spoke to about 250 people Thursday at a rally in Bryant’s home of Rankin County, a Jackson suburb that’s one of the most reliably Republican parts of Mississippi.
“You never have to worry about where Phil Bryant stands. He tells you,” Christie said with Bryant by his side at a community college auditorium.
Bryant is ending his first term as lieutenant governor. He has outspent Democrat Johnny DuPree, the third-term mayor of Hattiesburg, more than 7-to-1 in the race to succeed two-term Republican Gov. Haley Barbour. The election is Tuesday.
DuPree’s campaign on Thursday released a brief video showing the candidate being endorsed by comedian Bill Cosby. The video was shot last month after Cosby performed at a Mississippi casino, and it shows Cosby and DuPree sitting by each other on a couch.
“I am Bill Cosby and this, ladies and gentlemen, is my choice for the governor of Mississippi,” Cosby says. “Please consider the choice. And guess what else? I approved this commercial.”
“All right, then,” DuPree says with a chuckle as they shake hands.
Cosby replies: “Thank you, governor.”
“Thank you,” DuPree says.
At the Bryant rally Thursday, Barbour said a Republican victory in the Mississippi governor’s race next week will signal GOP strength entering the 2012 presidential year.
“The road to replace Barack Obama begins in Mississippi,” said Barbour, who couldn’t seek a third term as governor.
Barbour last April ruled out seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, and Christie followed suit last month.
Bryant told supporters he imagines President Obama and wife, Michelle, watching election returns on TV Tuesday night and hoping Democrats can win the governorship in Barbour’s home state.
“We just need to ruin their evening,” Bryant said.
DuPree campaign manager Sam Hall did not respond directly to the Republicans’ remarks.
“Mayor DuPree is focused on issues that will help move Mississippi forward and improve the lives of all Mississippians,” Hall said in an email. “That’s what he will continue to focus on through election day.”
When Barbour chaired the Republican Governors Association in 2009, the RGA pumped millions into New Jersey to help Christie unseat then-Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine. Christie said he wouldn’t be governor if not for Barbour’s support.
Greeted by applause by people at the Bryant rally, Christie deadpanned: “Well, Haley was right. He told me people like me in Mississippi.”
After appearing at the Bryant rally, Christie attended a Mississippi Republican Party fundraiser at a private home in the Jackson area, where suggested contributions started at $1,000 a person.
The chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, campaigned for DuPree in Jackson two weeks ago.