By Bob Pittman
Special from The Independent

With the campaign for the 2007 Republican nomination for lieutenant governor still more than a year and a half away, it appears already that it has narrowed to a two-man race. There will be a new Republican nominee for the state’s second highest position, no question about that. Present Republican Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck is term limited and if she is to remain in state politics, which she is expected to do, it will have to be for another position.

Presently it appears that there will be a hard-fought two-man contest in Republican ranks for the open position. State Auditor Phil Bryant and Senator Charlie Ross, both of whom are residents of Rankin County, are in the race; and already involved in significant fund raising activities. And, while both are seeking funds in statewide activities, each seems to be focusing on South Mississippi.

Both, in fact, are involved in fund raising that revolves around Hattiesburg.

Bryant, who was appointed as State Auditor by then Republican Gov. Kirk Fordice, is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and he is using that connection as a base for his South Mississippi fund raising. Moreover, he has political heavyweight and former Hattiesburg Mayor Bobby Chain as a ring leader in his fund raising efforts. While Bryant has a strong following in the Hub City region, including USM loyalists, supporters are keeping an eye on the State Auditor’s investigation of questionable use of the city’s fuel center during and immediately after Hurricane Katrina.