Coast businessman eyes Governor’s Mansion

JACKSON – In 2002, Dave and Jane Dennis traveled from their Gulfport home to Washington, D.C., to gauge the interest of Haley Barbour in running for governor of Mississippi.
Barbour had been sounding like a potential candidate, but if the former chair of the Republican National Committee did not run, there was a likelihood that Dave Dennis would.
While Barbour did not provide a definitive answer, he sounded and looked enough like a candidate to give Dennis all the information he needed. Dennis chose not to run and supported Barbour in 2003.
“No right-thinking Republican would have run against him – for a number of reasons,” Dennis said recently. “No. 1, I think he is the premier governor we have had.”
With Barbour limited by law to two terms and therefore unable to run again in 2011, Dennis is again considering a bid for the state’s top office. He recently formed a political action committee – Dave Dennis for Governor – and has been in the process of hiring staff.
While he said he is not ready to make a formal announcement, at this point the surprise would come if Dennis does not seek the Governor’s Mansion.
Earlier this month he was one of 29 invitees to a conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, conducted by the Republican Governors Association for potential gubernatorial candidates.
He received instruction from Barbour, who is head of the group, as well as Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and others.
“If that does not get your blood flowing, you are in trouble,” Dennis said.
Dennis has never run for political office. He and his wife operate a company that does subcontracting work on business operations ranging from schools and hospitals to casinos and factories.
But he has been involved in the state Republican Party for years. Former Gov. Kirk Fordice announced his plans to seek a second term in 1995 in the Dennises’ Gulfport home.
“I truly believe Mississippi’s best days are ahead, but we need decisive, conservative leadership…,” Dennis said. “We need to maintain the conservative leadership we have enjoyed.”
Dennis, 56, is an Atmore, Ala., native. After he and his wife, the former Jane Rumpf, graduated from Auburn University, they moved to the Gulf Coast to work in Jane’s father’s business. In 1985, they bought the company.
Dennis has been active in community and statewide organizations. He currently is chair of Leadership Mississippi and has led several civic groups on the Gulf Coast. He has been honored for his volunteerism and in 2006 was named citizen of the year on the Gulf Coast by the Boy Scouts.
He also has served as chair of the New Orleans Federal Reserve.
With Barbour stepping down, several people have been mentioned as potential candidates for governor. Among the Repubicans: Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, Treasurer Tate Reeves, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and former Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck.
Clarksdale attorney Bill Luckett, who like Dennis has never run for office, and Attorney General Jim Hood are considered the likely candidates on the Democratic side.
In what could be a strong field of Republican contenders, Dennis would most likely be considered an underdog. But unlike 2002, that won’t make him bow out this time around.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal