LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Mike Beebe on Saturday endorsed former Democratic Congressman Mike Ross’ bid to succeed Beebe in the governor’s office.

"I served with Mike Ross in the Senate," Beebe said at a news conference on the state Capitol steps. "I saw him come in as an eager, very, very young state senator and grow throughout that process. One thing that was consistent, however, from the very first day until the day we stand here together, is his understanding and responsiveness to the people that elect him."

Speaking to a cheering crowd of Ross supporters that included several Democratic state legislators, Beebe said Ross was known in the state Legislature and in Congress "as somebody who would knock down a door that needed to be knocked down to take care of people who he considered his boss, that is, the people who elected him."

Beebe also said Ross was the right person to continue the progress Arkansas has made.

"If we’re going to continue to prioritize education and economic development, if we’re going to understand our obligation to take care of those less fortunate than ourselves, if we’re going to understand that we can do this together across party lines and do it in a way that’s constructive, the way the founding fathers meant, then this is the man that knows how to get that done," he said.

Ross told the crowd, "I am proud and honored to accept Gov. Beebe’s endorsement — someone I have respected since the days when we worked side-by-side in the state Senate. Gov. Beebe has served this state well, and the reason he’s the most popular governor in America is because he always puts good public policy over partisan politics and he always puts Arkansas first."

Ross pledged to build on the foundation laid by "my pal, Gov. Mike Beebe" by rising above partisan politics, being fiscally responsible, strengthening education, creating jobs and providing tax relief.

"I have a history of fighting for Arkansas, and now I want to keep fighting for you by becoming your next governor," he said.

Beebe’s endorsement came as no surprise, given his friendship with Ross and the fact that Ross is the only Democrat in the race. Currently three Republicans are seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination: Former Congressman and deputy director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Asa Hutchinson, Little Rock businessman Curtis Coleman and state Rep. Debra Hobbs, R-Rogers.

Ross, 52, served in the state Senate for 10 years before first being elected to the U.S. House in 2000. He chose not to seek a seventh term in 2012, instead taking a job with Southwest Power Pool, a nonprofit organization that manages electric services for a multi-state region. He left that job to run for governor.

Though one of Ross’ campaign themes is continuing Beebe’s agenda as governor, Hutchinson said Saturday there is a difference between the two Democrats.

"Ross adopts the Obama argument that we cannot lower taxes while Beebe proved it can be done," he said. "I am leading the way for a more competitive income tax rate and Ross says it can’t be done. I disagree."

Hutchinson has said he would draw on Beebe’s model in gradually lowering the state grocery tax over 6 1/2 years in office to make incremental reductions in the state income tax if elected governor.

Ross on Friday criticized Hutchinson for promising to cut the income tax without providing details on how he would significantly reduce a levy that accounts for more than half of the state revenue.