Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant enjoys hanging out with President Donald Trump.

“I can’t tell you how much fun it is to be able to go to Washington D.C., now,” the second term Republican governor recently said at the Neshoba County Fair. “The last eight years before President Trump I would go to the national governors meeting — I would probably skip the black tie event in the evening (at the Obama White House). Now it is so much fun being in the White House — lots of fun making America great again.”

Bryant made it clear that while Trump will not be on the ballot in November, he will be an issue – an issue that he believes will be a net positive for Mississippi Republicans.

“If they (Democrats) want to get out here and say we need to have a check, a stopgap to Donald J. Trump, I am looking forward to it. Bring it on,” Bryant said.

He added, “We’re going to vote for people who support the president, Donald J. Trump.”

It is difficult to find any Mississippi Republican, especially any Republican running for office this year, who has said anything critical of the president.

Trump, whose approval rating has hovered at near 40 percent nationally, is viewed as a liability for Republican candidates in many parts of the nation. But Mississippi Republicans do not believe that is true here.

“To the extent there is a Trump effect, I think it’s positive here,” said Lucien Smith, chair of the state Republican Party. “That’s the reason that all of the Republicans running are rightfully touting their relationship with Trump and their support of what he’s going to do. The president remains very, very popular in Mississippi. He’s an asset. I hope we’ll see him come to Mississippi to campaign for folks.”

The state’s two United States senators, Roger Wicker of Tupelo and Cindy Hyde-Smith of Brookhaven, both Republicans, have supported the president more than any other senator, according to a FiveThirtyEight analysis.

On a campaign website, Wicker said, “I proudly stood by President Trump during his campaign against Hillary Clinton and continue to fight in Washington to push his agenda forward in the Senate. That is why I lead the Senate in voting with President Trump.”

Wicker has voted with Trump 96.1 percent of the time, according to the FiveThirtyEight analysis. Only former Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, who retired in March, and Hyde-Smith, whom Bryant appointed to replace Cochran in the interim, has voted with the president more than Wicker. Hyde-Smith has a 100 percent record of voting with Trump.

The two instances where Wicker voted against Trump were on enacting sanctions on Russia and a non binding resolution requiring Congress to vote on whether tariffs should be enacted. Hyde-Smith was appointed to the post after the Russia sanction vote, but voted against the proposal to allow Congress to have a say on whether tariffs should be enacted.

Hyde-Smith, running in a special election in November for the Cochran seat, makes clear her allegiance to Trump as she campaigns against fellow Republican Chris McDaniel, a state senator from Ellisville, and Democrat Mike Espy, the former secretary of agriculture in the Bill Clinton administration.

In the special election, where both Republicans and Democrats will be on the same ballot, McDaniel and Hyde-Smith, compete on who is the biggest Trump supporter.

In a campaign ad, Hyde-Smith said, “With President Trump, I’m working to be part of the solution.”

At the Neshoba County Fair, McDaniel said, “Donald Trump is a fine president. He needs fighters — not just those trying to ride his coattails in Washington, D.C.”

In Mississippi, Trump has a net positive approval rating of 24 percentage points in the latest Morning Consult tracking poll. Morning Consult tracks the president’s approval ratings for all 50 states monthly.

U.S. Senate Republican candidate Chris McDaniel speaks to media after speaking during the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Miss. Thursday, August 2, 2018. Credit: Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/ Report for America

Like most states, the president’s approval rating has dropped in Mississippi. In January 2017, when he was inaugurated, his rating in Mississippi was a positive 34 percent. Trump’s current Mississippi rating, 60 percent approval and 26 disapproval, is among his best. Only Wyoming, at 31 percent, and Alabama and West Virginia, at 30 percent each, have higher net positive approval ratings for the president. Louisiana, like Mississippi, is at 24 percent in the Morning Consult poll.

Bobby Moak, chair of the state Democratic Party, acknowledged that running against Trump might not be wise in Mississippi.

“It is a weird thing. We try not to mention the Trump name. He is the president. We are not going to disparage that,” Moak said.

Mississippi farmers brace for tariffs’ impact: ‘We are the ones being hit the hardest’

“The policies of the president and the Republican Party we are talking about because those are a negative for Mississippians, like the tariffs. You don’t have to mention the president’s name. We just talk about how the tariffs are affecting farmers. We can say Roger Wicker supports those policies or Cindy Hyde-Smith supports those policies. Or we talk about all the local hospitals closing.”

Indeed, Espy has voiced opposition to the tariffs that Trump has imposed, impacting Mississippi farmers, but has said little about the president.

At the Neshoba County Fair, state Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, who is running against Wicker said, “Mississippi needs a senator who is not afraid of the president, who will work with him when he is right and stand up to him when he is wrong, no matter who is in the White House.”

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.