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Pennsylvania's blue-collar voters see danger — and back Trump

By Noah Bierman, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. - There are no protests over racial injustice or police brutality here, and the only fires or violence Wendy Williams encounters are on television and online. Yet the spotty images of unrest in faraway Portland, Oregon, and Kenosha, Wisconsin, linger in her mind.

If anything, she'd like President Donald Trump to crack down harder, to follow through on his threats to send more troops to quash the protests. She wishes he didn't say so many inflammatory things, yet resents those who label him a racist.

"There's always been racism. There's always gonna be racism, but it's not him that's doing it," Williams, a white, 53-year-old stay-at-home mom, said outside a Walmart. "It's the Democrats and the media that are getting it out there and keeping it out there. And if the riots don't get taken care of, it's just making it worse."

Williams said she did not vote in presidential elections before Trump came along in 2016. Now, she is an essential part of his 2020 coalition. She lives in Wilkes-Barre, in blue-collar Luzerne County, one of three Pennsylvania counties that flipped from blue to red in 2016 and helped give Trump the state - and a narrow electoral college victory.

Trump's racially loaded calls for "law and order" in the face of mostly peaceful protests, and his dire warnings that Democratic nominee Joe Biden will "demolish the suburbs," have alienated some voters in the actual suburbs, where Black and Latino populations are growing and many educated white women are abandoning the Republican Party.

But Trump's appeals to the grievances of white supporters - including his recent order to purge the federal government of racial sensitivity training - appear to be resonating with voters in down-at-the-heels industrial cities such as Wilkes-Barre, where his campaign hopes for a surge of white working-class voters.

 

Trump's promises to crack down on "chaos" in cities "actually play better with voters that are far away from the unrest," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Poll.

Polls show Biden leading Trump by 5 percentage points in Pennsylvania, according to an average compiled Friday by FiveThirtyEight.

Both campaigns agree that Trump's best chance to overtake Biden in the state is to get more rural and small-town voters to counter Biden's strength in and around Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Luzerne County is overwhelmingly white, although it has grown more diverse in the past decade. Black and Latino residents comprise 21% of the population of 317,000.

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