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Barbour finds ‘encouraging’ support as he considers race for governor

While talking to supporters in the Bank of Brookhaven conferenceroom decorated with “Haley Barbour for Governor” signs, the formerRepublican National Committee chairman is acting and sounding likea candidate.

He just hasn’t made a final decision, yet.

“This is part of an orderly process of getting to a decision andan announcement,” Barbour said Monday evening during a gatheringhere.

The visit, which included an earlier fund-raiser at a privateresidence, is one of nine stops around the state Barbour is makingto gauge support for a possible gubernatorial run. He said adecision would be made between the last meeting on Feb. 6 inJackson and the March 1 qualifying deadline.

“I just think it’s the right thing to do,” Barbour said aboutthe process.

Brookhaven was the fourth stop on Barbour’s tour, which hasincluded Southaven, Tupelo and Starkville so far. Stops later thisweek and next week include Hattiesburg, Gulfport, Greenwood,Meridian and Jackson.

Barbour said the response during the meetings has been veryencouraging. He is already familiar with much of the statefollowing a series of stops in 2002.

“I’m serious about this thing. I went to 59 counties last year,”said Barbour, who stopped in Lincoln County last June.

Barbour touched on several potential campaign issues beforeentering Monday’s meeting, which was not open to the public.Approximately 75-80 supporters attended.

The financial condition of the state, putting a higher priorityon education, economic development and tort reform were topics thatBarbour said had been raised during his organizational and strategymeetings.

Barbour said the state’s universities and colleges had been cut$99 million over the last three years, and community colleges hadbeen cut even more to the tune of 23 percent. He also lamented a 41percent reduction is in drug enforcement funding efforts.

“That comes from not setting priorities and sticking to them,”Barbour said.

Barbour offered a lukewarm appraisal of last year’s tort reformefforts during an 83-day legislative special session. He ranked thebusiness liability tort reform measures a three on a scale of 1-10and gave a slightly better assessment of the medical action.

“The medical liability (action) is a real improvement, but moreneeds to be done,” Barbour said.

While traveling the state, Barbour said citizens have expressedconcerns to him about a “leadership vacuum.” He said the feeling isthat Mississippi can improve, but it needs better and strongerleadership.

“We’re not going to be able to solve some of these problems withstrong, effective leadership,” Barbour said.