JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi Republican Party is hiring former Biloxi police officer Brandon Payne as its new executive director.

The Gulf Coast native begins the party job Sept. 1. He is president of the Harrison County Republican Club and has been working on the U.S. Senate staff of Republican Roger Wicker, where he has been responsible for the 18 southernmost counties in Mississippi.

The state GOP has been without an executive director since Tim Saler left the job in late 2011.

Party chairman Joe Nosef announced Payne's hiring during a news conference Monday in Jackson and said the salary was still under discussion.

"Sen. Wicker called me the other day. I don't think he knew whether to congratulate me or get mad at me," Nosef said.

Mississippi is sending 40 delegates and 37 alternates to next week's Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., and Nosef said all 40 of the delegates will vote for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to become the party's presidential nominee.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum narrowly won Mississippi's Republican presidential primary on March 14, edging past former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and Romney. Mississippi awarded 37 delegates, proportionally, based on the primary results, but Nosef said Santorum and Gingrich, who left the race months ago, are releasing their delegates to Romney.

Nosef said he expects Mississippi to have about 200 people at the national convention, counting delegates, alternates, spouses, guests and others. Among the Republican elected officials scheduled to attend are Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and state House Speaker Philip Gunn.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and state Treasurer Lynn Fitch are helping write the party platform.

Mississippi's population is about 38 percent black, and the state's delegation to the Republican National Convention is mostly white. It includes one delegate of Indian descent, two black delegates and one black alternate.

Nosef, who will attend his first Republican National Convention, praised Romney's selection of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as a running mate.

"During the circular firing squad days of the primary, I didn't think it would be possible to see the kind of energy that we've seen now as a result of the Paul Ryan choice," Nosef said.

Romney campaigned in Mississippi before the primary and was in Jackson for a fundraiser in July. Mississippi has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1980, and Nosef said he doesn't know if Romney will campaign in the state before the Nov. 6 general election.

"If Gov. Romney's not back, we're going to see some significant Romney surrogates come back," Nosef said.