Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is making a prime time campaign stop in Mississippi Wednesday – a move that baffles a number of the state’s political insiders.
In two separate stops in Jackson on Wednesday evening, Trump will attend a fundraising event and make a campaign speech.
The Mississippi Republican Party is hosting a private, $1,000-per-head fundraising dinner at the Jackson Convention Center, followed by a rally a few blocks east at the Mississippi Coliseum, which is open to the public (free tickets must be obtained beforehand).
Trump has not polled higher in any other state since mid-July. A poll released last week by Republican-leaning Magellan Strategies shows Trump overwhelmingly leading Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by 15 points head-to-head in Mississippi, carrying 54 percent of the vote.
Trump is behind in polls in a number of battleground states, each with many more electoral votes than Mississippi’s six. His decision to visit Jackson leaves many Republican strategists and insiders in Mississippi wondering why the GOP candidate is stumping here 75 days from election day.
“His stop here is unusual, given that he’ll win Mississippi and win big,” said Pete Perry, Hinds County GOP chairman. “I think he enjoys the big events. I think that’s what he does, but he picks up nothing as far as electoral college votes by coming to Mississippi.”
Trump’s Mississippi visit was first slated solely as a fundraising trip, as the Mississippi Republican Party announced the private fundraiser on August 15. But by August 18, the Trump campaign announced the addition of the rally at the Coliseum.
“They put together the fundraiser first, and then tacked on the rally afterwards,” Perry said. “The campaign said, ‘We’ve got him here for another hour, what can we do with him?’ Doing the fundraiser isn’t unusual. The idea made sense. There’s not a lot of money to raise here, but they’ll raise it.”
Several insiders told Mississippi Today the Mississippi GOP expects around 500-600 people to attend the fundraiser, pumping half a million dollars into his campaign war chest.
Trump enjoys wide support in Mississippi, both from voters and the state’s Republican leadership. The New York business mogul earned 47 percent of the Mississippi vote in the March primary, easily defeating Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (36 percent) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (8 percent).
By early afternoon, Trump’s supporters were already arriving to get a good seat for the candidate’s speech.
Gov. Phil Bryant has ardently supported the candidate since early May, even attending a meeting with Trump on June 14 at Trump Tower in New York City with several other Republican governors. Bryant, who is chairing the Trump campaign in Mississippi, will attend both events today, spokesman Clay Chandler said.
State Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith is serving on Trump’s agriculture advisory committee. The Trump campaign announced Tuesday that state Treasurer Lynn Fitch is leading the Mississippi Women for Trump committee. Fitch will also attend both events, a spokesperson said.
Today will be Trump’s third visit to the state since announcing his candidacy in 2015. Trump spoke at a rally at Madison Central High School on March 7, the day before the Mississippi primaries. Trump previously spoke at a rally on Jan. 2 in Biloxi. Both events drew thousands of supporters.
The Mississippi Department of Transportation put out a release noting the Trump events and alerting motorists to the potential for congestion between 3 p.m. and 10 p.m on I-55 and I-20 in the downtown Jackson area, Hinds County and Rankin County.
Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. campaigned for his father at the Neshoba County Fair in late July and drew a wildly enthusiastic crowd.
The nominee is in battleground Florida Wednesday morning, attending a rally in Tampa.
On Tuesday, Trump campaigned in Texas, another traditionally red state the candidate looks poised to win handily. There, he attended two private fundraisers, a town hall taping with Fox News’ Sean Hannity and a rally in Austin.
“It’s hard to put rhyme or reason behind anything that campaign does now,” said John Morgan Hughes, a Mississippi political consultant who owns JM Hughes Group. “I doubt they’re seeing numbers internally the rest of us aren’t that would explain why he’s coming to Mississippi this close from the general election. I think Mississippi is one of those states you can almost certainly put in the 55-60 percent (support) column.”
Mississippi Republican Party spokeswoman Jennifer Dunagin said, “Donald Trump is traveling all over the country raising money for his presidential campaign and just like Hillary Clinton fundraises in blue states like California, Donald Trump is hitting red states like Mississippi and Texas.”
The Trump campaign did not return requests for comment on the decision to come to Mississippi. But a statement released by the Trump campaign Tuesday, detailing the candidate’s week ahead, omitted mention of the Mississippi visit. The statement touched on the Texas stop Tuesday, mentioned the Wednesday morning Florida leg of the trip, and noted plans to visit battlegrounds Nevada on Friday and Iowa on Saturday.
Clinton, who garnered 83 percent of the Mississippi vote in the Democratic primary, has not visited Mississippi since announcing her candidacy. Mississippi Democratic Party Chairman Bobby Moak said it is still possible either the candidate herself or vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine could visit the state before the general election.
“For Donald Trump to show up in a state like Mississippi right now is admirable, but it’s politically perplexing,” Moak said. “It’s about money, as far as I can tell.”
The Trump campaign continues to cope as top leadership roles have shifted. Last week, Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort resigned, and Kellyanne Conway took over. Since then, the campaign has cancelled rallies in three states: Oregon, Nevada and Colorado. Trump, however, still plans on attending the fundraisers that were originally paired with those rallies.
As of Wednesday morning, the Jackson rally was still on.
“Donald Trump is also holding a rally tonight so he can see as many Mississippi supporters as possible which we think is very admirable,” Dunagin said.
Other Republicans strategists chalked up today’s visit to the unconventional – and at times successful – campaign methods the Trump campaign has used from the day he announced his candidacy.
“In the conventional model, we’ve been losing races,” said Hayes Dent, a Mississippi Republican political strategist who has worked on numerous presidential campaigns. “So maybe stopping in Mississippi is more part of that unconventional approach. My sense is that the Trump campaign, tossing conventional wisdom aside, continues to evolve and learn about how you run a national campaign. With that in mind, maybe they’re doing the right thing by coming here. It’s hard to know for sure.”