From Somerset, Pennsylvania –
With less than four weeks to go until Election Day, a day trip to Pennsylvania showcased the strong feelings in many more rural areas – against Hillary Clinton – and for Donald Trump, as supporters of Trump vowed to get to the polls, echoing many of the arguments that he makes out on the campaign trail.
Pennsylvania is seen as a swing state – but it’s actually been out of the hands of Republicans for the last six Presidential elections – George H.W. Bush was the last Republican to win here in 1988.
Instead of going by myself, my Washington bureau colleague Dorey Scheimer joined me; she is a Pennsylvania native, and that greatly helped us navigate some of the back roads of the Keystone State.
Even before we hit the Pennsylvania line, Dorey was hard at work in the passenger seat, using my laptop to start going through the latest batch of Wikileaks emails that had been released about the Clinton campaign.
While I drove, Dorey kept reading me some of emails to and from Clinton aide John Podesta, getting some screen grabs from them, and then posting a few on Twitter – all while we were booming down the highway.
Minutes after we jumped on the Pennsylvania Turnpike at Breezewood, Dorey snapped this photo, which underlined the political sentiments in this area, known to some as “Pennsyltucky.”
Meanwhile, the car radio crackled.
“He’s a thin skinned narcissist,” the voice said of President Obama, on a radio talk show that was throwing political fire at both the President and Hillary Clinton.
Another hour later, we were driving the roads of Somerset County, Pennsylvania, and it wasn’t very hard to find a number of signs for Donald Trump – like a welding company that put a big Trump sign over its own brand.
Just about every street we turned on to around Somerset, there was a Trump sign, which wasn’t that surprising, given that this county has voted Republican every election for over a century, except for the 1964 LBJ win over Goldwater.
Since Dorey had lived and worked not far from Somerset, she was in charge of finding us a place to eat where the food was not only good, but where we could find people to interview.
Her first instinct turned out to be right – the local diner.
After some good food, it was time to get to work. Since my voice isn’t working very well, Dorey took the lead on the interviews, as we quickly found ourselves immersed in the partisan battle that is the 2016 race for President.
“Go Trump!” one of the diners yelled as we started asking questions about the Trump-Clinton race.
“Hillary – you can’t believe nothing she says,” said Jim Barron, a Trump backer who runs a trucking company in Somerset.
“The only ones who vote for Hillary are the ones who get a government check,” Barron added as he ate his lunch.
Our discussion about the race for President was clearly overheard by others, as the names “Trump” and “Clinton” began to ricochet around the diner.
“Neither one,” a woman in a nearby booth said about the choice for President. “I’m not voting.”
“If you don’t vote, you’re voting for her,” said a man a few booths down, talking across the table where we were.
“This is a Trump area,” Barron told us about Somerset County. “They’re all going to vote – they’ll be people voting who never voted yet.”
Barron also raised the prospect of illegal voting in Philadelphia swaying the state to Clinton, citing a much-debunked argument that some precincts in that city had more than 100% voter turnout in 2012 (that did not happen).
As Dorey and I headed to our car in the parking lot, one woman who had seen us inside chased us down.
Judy – she didn’t want to give her last name – was ready to vote for Trump, mainly spurred by her dislike of the Clintons.
“Bill Clinton disgraced the Presidency,” Judy said. “We don’t need her there now.”
“She passed out on the campaign trail – I don’t think that’s pneumonia,” Judy said insistently, echoing Republican claims about Clinton’s health.
When we asked Judy where we should go next – she didn’t hesitate.
“There’s a Trump house off of Route 30.”
A few Google searches later, we were off to Youngstown, Pennsylvania, and as we headed through some beautiful countryside, and the number of Trump signs grew even more:
There were some with a Halloween themed addition:
And we also spotted our first – and only sign of the day – for Hillary Clinton.
After another hour on the road, we made it to Youngstown, and the Trump-themed house, which was drawing a steady stream of visitors.
The owner, Leslie Rossi, a mother of eight, was more than happy to show us around, as she greeted a steady stream of visitors who excitedly snapped photos outside.
“I was so excited in the primary because we won,” Rossi told Dorey and I out by the 20 foot high photo cutout of Trump, as horns honked, and Rossi waved back.
When we asked what she would do if Trump lost in November, Rossi was almost speechless – almost offended – like someone had bluntly insulted her.
“I just really like Mr. Trump, and support him,” Rossi said. “I think he’s a great opportunity for our nation.”
Rossi then went back to playing host to all the strangers that were stopping by, gladly offering to take their picture with the Trump cutout.
“That was great!” one woman gushed to her friend as they headed to their car.
By now, we had gone so far west that we were well over a three hour drive back to D.C., so it was time to get on the road home.
But it was also a time to see more political signs – and do a little sightseeing – as we drove southeast on U.S. 30, also known as the Lincoln Highway.
On the radio, Sean Hannity and other conservative talkers were making their case against Hillary Clinton as we passed by the site of Fort Ligonier, an early British military fort during the French and Indian War.
Driving along U.S. 30, not only did we see the fall foliage, but there were even more Trump signs, including a few that I hadn’t seen before:
While it was time to head back to Washington, I suddenly realized that we were almost to the Flight 93 memorial, honoring those who had rushed the cockpit on September 11, 2001, forcing that United jetliner down, before terrorists could fly it to Washington.
Many think that plane was destined for the U.S. Capitol, where I was working that morning.
There was no choice – we had to turn in and visit.
At the memorial, it was a quiet and somber scene, as you look out into the field where the plane crashed, killing everyone aboard.
As we left the Flight 93 memorial and drove toward Breezewood, Pennsylvania, I noticed something different – a number of Confederate flags at homes along the road.
In fact, I saw more Confederate flags in one day in Pennsylvania, than I had seen in five days of driving around in Virginia last week.
When you look at the map of Pennsylvania, it should be mostly red on Election Night – and the counties we visited, Franklin, Fulton, Bedford, Somerset and Westmoreland are likely to be in that column, among the reddest in all of this state.
But for Donald Trump fans, that’s not a winning formula, because the population is small here compared to the bigger cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
In fact, in 2012, Barack Obama won this state by only winning 12 of 67 counties – he ran up most of his advantage in the city of Philadelphia and the surrounding counties in the southeast part of the state.
The polls right now give an edge to Hillary Clinton in this state. Donald Trump has less than four weeks to turn it around.
“I don’t know if Trump is going to make it or not,” Jim Barron had told us at lunch. “We need to get Trump in there.”