PHILADELPHIA - On Sunday at the Neshoba County Fair, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker climbed the stairs at Cabin 291 carrying a bundt cake and speaking to all the porch sitters. Everyone has their favorite parts of the Fair. Wicker told me he likes "visiting around. No deadlines." After a bite to eat he set off to visit around and allowed me to tag along.

While Neshoba County was not part of his old congressional district, Wicker is no stranger to the Fair. He spoke there a couple of times as congressman, as well as in his campaign for Senate last year. He was a student at Ole Miss when he first visited the Fair with his Sigma-Nu fraternity brother Don Kilgore. But Wicker's most remarkable Fair was Ronald Reagan's visit in 1980.

In 1980, Wicker and his wife Gayle drove down from Tupelo and had left "baby Margaret" with his parents. Wicker said the day was much like it was as we were walking on Sunday: gray, cloudy, rainy. Wicker recalled the announcer at the Reagan event told people not to worry about the "liquid sunshine." Sure enough, the rain stopped and Reagan's helicopter flew in to the central field looped by a horse track to the applause of thousands at the Grandstand.

Wicker repeated a favorite Reagan story of the Fair. Artisan Greg Harkins of Vaughan, Mississippi has crafted rocking chairs for governors, five presidents, Pope John Paul II and other dignitaries. But his presentation of a chair to Reagan troubled some campaign staffers who feared it highlighted the candidate's age. Reagan was 69. But Reagan dropped into the chair, grabbed his wife Nancy - the tips of her white shoes stained red by Neshoba clay - and pulled her into his lap. Reagan transformed a grandfather image into a scene of youthful vigor.

Wicker told the Reagan story as we meandered down Sunset Strip, pausing occasionally as Wicker spoke to families on the porches. We lingered for a while in Happy Hollow where Wicker walked up on Alan Perry playing scrabble. "Try 'antidisestablishmentarianism'" Wicker said. "We don't have those letters" the players laughed back as he waved and moved on down the row.

Wicker stopped for a quick interview with newspaper publisehr Jim Prince, whose company publishes The Fair Times, the Fair's daily newspaper. There the conversation shifted to policy.

"I'm voting 'no' a lot this year. I'm trying to defeat Obamacare," Wicker said. Wicker advocates healthcare reform targeted at making private insurance affordable, accessible, and portable through national association health plans, the creation of health insurance exchanges, and medical malpractice reform. "Those modest changes would go a long way without turning everything over to Uncle Sam," Wicker said. "We don't want the people who managed Katrina to manage one-sixth of the economy."

The talk turned to the economy: "We are overspending like this country has never seen," and the stimulus: rising unemployment "was not the result that was promised to the American people;" and energy: "I think it is unlikely we'll have cap and trade."

Wicker supports traditional domestic energy sources. "We have the world's largest supply of coal. We can turn coal into gas. We're flying jet planes on coal now...Nuclear power like we do in the U.S. is totally safe both in production and spent fuel." Prince asked Wicker about the new clean-coal plant in Kemper County, "I support it whole heartedly and I'm optimistic about it."

After the interview, we made our way to Mississippi's only licensed horse track to watch harness racing. A race had just ended so Roger and Gayle Wicker presented a winner's blanket to a horse named Aintnostopnus. They served as honorary starters for the next race, riding in the back of the green Ford pickup outfitted with horse gates that drove around the track immediately ahead of the horse drawn sulkies.

The Wickers spoke to the race staff, and Miss Neshoba County Fair 2008 Brandi Covington whose duties at the races were among her last before she crowned her successor the following night.

The Wickers returned to "visiting around." On the way to Founders Square they stopped at The Briar Patch where over the years many a young lady accepted a proposal from Hugh Thomasson. He kept a basket full of plastic rings handy for just such occasions. This is the first Fair without him. The Wickers hadn't seen the family since his funeral and they smiled and laughed at memories both sad and happy.

From there the Wickers visited with Paul Breazeale, the Yates family and Sid Salter before attending the Sunday night service hosted by First Baptist Church of Philadelphia at the Pavilion.

Wherever the Wickers went that day they were always on time. That is easy at the Fair, where - except for writers -there are no deadlines.

Brian Perry, a former congressional aide, is a partner in a public affairs firm. Reach him at