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The forgotten counties will make their voices heard and sweep Trump into a second term

Salena Zito on

JOHNSTOWN, Pennsylvania -- Ken Miller walked into one of the four storefronts on the right flank of the Richland Shopping Center, asked if this was where he could change his voter registration, sat down with a purpose and began to fill out the form.

"It is time to go," he said flatly as he checked his Pennsylvania driver's license number to place on the form.

Miller did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016; he didn't vote for Hillary Clinton either. He is a retired insurance manager and does not like what he sees coming from the party he has been a part of his adult life. "I just get tired of the game playing that the Democrats are doing," he says. "Everything's just so disgusting today. Something has to change. Well, something's going to change."

"I'm afraid something's going to break out here, and I'm pretty sure it will," he said. He's concerned that what happened to patrons having dinner at an outside cafe in Pittsburgh, when protesters swarmed them, will find its way here and other bucolic settings across the country.

Miller is not alone. For the first time anyone can remember, Cambria County is no longer dominated by Democratic voter registrations. It lost that dominance quietly on Labor Day weekend when Pennsylvania Department of State registration numbers showed Republicans having 37,951 registrations and Democrats holding 37,826.

Four years ago, Democrats still dominated by 12,000 registrations. Eight years ago, it was nearly double that. Despite the lead in registrations, both Trump and Mitt Romney prevailed over their Democratic rivals in this county.

 

Yet it was not that long ago that then-candidate Barack Obama won here over Republican John McCain, and not that long ago that Democrats had a 30,000-voter registration advantage over Republicans.

Cambria was one of 10 counties -- part rural, part post-industrial, like Washington County, Luzerne County and Erie County -- that helped Trump eke out a victory in Pennsylvania, the first GOP candidate to win the Keystone State since 1988. Republican-supporting voters turned out 9% to 10% higher for Trump than they did for Romney, numbers that offset the larger Democratic-dominated populations of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Harrisburg.

For an outsider, this may not seem to be a big deal. A small-population county flips Republican. Who cares? Larger-population counties, such as Chester County in suburban Philadelphia, are now marginally more Democratic than Republican. Isn't that where the focus should be? The short answer is maybe. The longer answer is that our political coalitions have changed and our focus has been on the suburbs, the comfortable class. But what if the little guy makes the difference?

For generations, Cambria County has been synonymous with working-class, blue-collar Catholic laborers who went down into the coal mines that powered our country and into the steel mills that built our country. They worked hard, hunted and fished for their food, served their country, played hard and went dutifully to church with their families every Sunday to atone for their sins.

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