Posted with permission from The Washington Times

Upstart Republican candidates are bear-hugging President Trump and saying their rivals in the party are insufficiently supportive of the president, banking on sustained enthusiasm for Mr. Trump carrying into elections this year and next year.

Kelli Ward, who is preparing for a primary challenge against Sen. Jeff Flake next year, said Mr. Flake and his fellow Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain have been looking for ways to undermine Mr. Trump.

"What any good elected official does is they watch the executive and they look for times when they may need to do it - but they don't look for things that they can just pick on in order to be in the opposition, and that's what John McCain and Jeff Flake are both doing," Ms. Ward told The Washington Times recently.

Ms. Ward also said Mr. Flake is a "Mini-Me" and an "enabler" of Mr. McCain.

Mr. Flake's office responded by pointing to his lifetime scores of 99 percent from National Right to Life, 98 percent from Americans for Prosperity, 97 percent from the Club for Growth and consistent A ratings from the National Rifle Association, as well as the fact that he was rated the most conservative member of Congress for eight straight years by the National Taxpayers Union.

"I'm not sure how Kelli Ward spins that as moderate, but as a full-time candidate for office, that's her prerogative," said Flake spokesman Jason Samuels.

Mr. McCain defeated Ms. Ward in a Republican primary last year on his way to re-election. His office did not respond to requests for comment.

But the tough words show that conservative hopefuls will seize on the slightest break from Mr. Trump as cause for concern. Mr. McCain has expressed doubts about Mr. Trump's posture toward Russia, for example, and both he and Mr. Flake criticized the president during the presidential campaign.

Mr. Trump in November became the first Republican presidential candidate since 1988 to carry Pennsylvania, and Sen. Patrick J. Toomey won re-election, giving Republicans some hope that they can knock off Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., Pennsylvania Democrat.

Last week, state Rep. Rick Saccone said at his U.S. Senate campaign launch event that he wants to go to Washington to help Mr. Trump.

"President Trump was elected to go drain the swamp, and I want to go and help him," Mr. Saccone said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We will set the country back on the right course, and then I'll come home."

Yong Saccone, the candidate's wife, recently joked that her husband says he is a "little Trump without the money" and drew parallels with the president.

"He said, '[If I get in], I'm going to do exactly what I told you I'm going to do,'" Mrs. Saccone told The Washington Times. "He's doing that. My husband's the same way. Nobody can buy him and nobody can persuade him because of a donation or whatever reason."

In Virginia, Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart is proudly waving the Trump flag in the governor's race this year.

Mr. Stewart, a former state chairman for the Trump campaign, has been enthusiastically playing up the ties and comparing his own anti-establishment campaign to that of Mr. Trump.

Meanwhile, former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, who has been leading the party's field, offered Mr. Trump some praise for his recent address to a joint session of Congress.

"It may be the best speech I've seen President Trump give," Mr. Gillespie told radio host John Fredericks.

Many Republicans labored to keep their distance from Mr. Trump last year, and early surveys on his presidency have been a mixed bag. But even in polling that shows lackluster approval ratings overall, Mr. Trump still enjoys robust support in the party.

A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed that 38 percent of voters nationwide approve of the way Mr. Trump is handling his job, compared with 55 percent who said they disapprove.

Among Republicans, 83 percent said they approve and 66 percent said they "strongly" approve - presenting a potential risk for incumbent Republicans who try to keep too much distance from Mr. Trump.

Still, any particular "Trump effect" on the race in Virginia or the midterm elections next year remains to be seen.

"While his base may be eating it up, a broad portion of the electorate is telling President Donald Trump there is a big difference between campaign bravado and an agenda that works for all Americans," said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.