While still maintaining an extremely cordial public relationship with the Barbour administration, it’s undeniable that Bryant faces the delicate task of slowly beginning to cut Barbour loose and push his own political agenda in the Senate if he is to seize the mantle of leadership in time to make an expected 2011 bid to succeed Barbour as governor.
It’s a delicate and complicated political dance. Cut Barbour loose too early or with a sufficient lack of grace and tact and run the risk of turning the popular, term-limited governor from a lame duck into a mean mallard.
Cut Barbour loose too late and run the risk of looking like an acolyte who lacks the power to govern without his blessings.
For Bryant, the stakes could not be higher over the next two years. For a 2011 governor’s race, Bryant will need to be committed to a full-bore campaign by 2010.
Bryant is not the only Republican who could make a credible campaign for governor. State Treasurer Tate Reeves and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann are both considered possible contenders. Gulf Coast businessman Dave Dennis is also frequently mentioned as a possible candidate.
On the Democratic side, there are also several strong names floating around, including Attorney General Jim Hood, former attorney general Mike Moore, current state Democratic chairman Jamie Franks and a handful of lesser-known potential candidates.
To be sure, Bryant is the current lead dog in the gubernatorial speculation race. But a lot can change over the next 18 to 24 months.
With a tax hike on the table this session and other legislation important to Barbour’s core constituency on the Republican right, Bryant will draw increasing scrutiny from within his own party over that period – perhaps as much or more from fellow GOPers than from the Democrats.
Democrats who see Bryant as a more pragmatic, easier-to-compromise Republican than Barbour will be seeking to reiterate those believe with tangible policy concessions in negotiations with him over the next two years.
They’ll be looking to see if he bears Barbour’s political water or his own. But Republicans will be looking at just the opposite.
The conservative wing of the Mississippi GOP will be looking to see if Bryant holds the line on taxing and spending and whether he’s too eager to compromise with the Democratic majority in the House.