By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press
JACKSON — Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said Thursday that he’s endorsing Mitt Romney for president, joining several other Republican statewide elected officials who are backing the former Massachusetts governor for the GOP nomination.
Bryant called The Associated Press to announce his decision shortly before appearing with Romney at a campaign event in the coastal city of Pascagoula.
“What a remarkable job he did in Massachusetts, balancing the budget and erasing the deficit,” Bryant said in a phone interview.
Mississippi’s presidential primary is next Tuesday, and 40 delegates will be awarded. Several other Republican statewide elected officials, including U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, were already on board with Romney.
Bryant, who became governor in January, said he believes Romney has the best chance to defeat Democratic President Barack Obama in November.
Bryant had supported Texas Gov. Rick Perry until Perry dropped out of the presidential race.
Republican candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum also have campaigned in Mississippi this week. It’s not clear whether Ron Paul will appear in the state before Tuesday.
At a Gingrich event Thursday at the Hilton hotel in north Jackson, Republican former state Sen. Lee Yancey of Brandon prayed for the former U.S. House speaker.
“I thank you for people like Newt Gingrich, who carry the conservative torch, who live by the Constitution,” said Yancey, who ran unsuccessfully for state treasurer in 2011.
Gingrich mostly ignored the other Republican presidential candidates as he spoke to about 200 people. He talked extensively about energy policy, saying the Obama administration has blocked oil exploration in the United States.
“Our only opponent is Barack Obama, and we are committed to removing him from the White House,” Gingrich said.
During a campaign event Wednesday night at the Mississippi Agriculture Museum in Jackson, Santorum said Obama and Romney both have gotten government too involved in health care.
“This president doesn’t understand America,” Santorum told about 400 people.
Rickey Cole, chairman of the Mississippi Democratic Party, said Thursday that Romney is not equipped to run against Obama.
“We already know voters are unenthusiastic about the candidates on the Republican side. He is pandering to extreme folks to clinch the Republican nomination,” Cole said of Romney.
Associated Press writer Laura Tillman contributed to this report.