Mississippi’s vast flatlands, laced with the remains of a fading industrial base, are fertile ground for the incendiary populism of Donald Trump.
For the insurgent presidential candidate, there's plenty of voter outrage to tap into here and in a swathe of other southern states that could push Trump closer to securing the Republican presidential nomination in the coming weeks.
Mississippi’s unemployment rate is among the highest in the nation: more than 75,000 manufacturing jobs have disappeared in the past 15 years; and white voters at the core of the state’s Republican Party fear the rise of immigrant workers.
The deep economic dislocation felt by many in Mississippi, reflected in Reuters interviews with dozens of voters, explains how Trump is attracting broad-based support in southern states, including from many evangelical Christian voters prepared to overlook his past liberal positions on touchstone social issues.
In South Carolina last weekend, exit polls showed Trump comfortably beat both his closest rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio among evangelical voters, despite their more consistent appeals to Christian values.
“Look at immigration, look at terrorism, look at the things that really matter,” said Heather Fox, a field director for the Trump campaign in Mississippi.
“If we don’t have a country, it’s not going to matter about the Bible or the Constitution because we are going to be dead and gone,” she added during a recent gathering of Republican voters in a Holiday Inn conference room in Lucedale, southern Mississippi, that began with a prayer.
Caleb Howell, a Baptist deacon, says even those with jobs often see little chance of promotion.
“There are not many options,” he said, “even for preachers.”
From the Mississippi coast through Alabama, Tennessee and the Appalachian coalfields of Kentucky, America’s economic recovery has been patchy if not outright elusive.