Western North Carolina Voters Betrayed By Political Class Stand By Trump

Oct 28, 2016
Originally published on October 28, 2016 8:10 pm

Even as Donald Trump steadily slips in national polls, some parts of the country remain loyal. If Trump hopes to win the election, voter enthusiasm in these "red zones" will be crucial.

With Election Day looming, NPR's Ari Shapiro talked with voters in the town of Franklin, in the mountains of western North Carolina, where people overwhelmingly vote Republican.

While some Republicans nationally are holding their noses to vote for Trump, many people in Franklin are all in. They say they're tired of feeling betrayed by the political establishment.

"Trump is a street fighter, if you want to call him something," says Carla Miller, the county GOP chair. "He's fighting the media. He's fighting his own party, the establishment of his party, and he's fighting his opponent. I think that because of that, he emerges as our voice that fights for us."

Use the audio link above to hear the full story.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

For Donald Trump to win the presidential election, he'll need intense voter enthusiasm in deeply red parts of the country. My co-host Ari Shapiro visited one of them. He spoke with voters in the town of Franklin in the mountains of far western North Carolina.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: On a sunny day in Franklin, Main Street is lined with corn stalks and gourds for the upcoming Pumpkin Festival. And the first two people we meet here both defy easy political categories. Thirty-two-year-old Ashley Hall is on break from her work at a software company. She pulled the lever for Obama in 2008 and 2012. And this year she's voting for Trump.

ASHLEY HALL: Maybe our country needs to be run by a businessman instead of somebody who has a political agenda.

SHAPIRO: Then down the street, there's Ricky Woods, a 60-year-old former iron worker. He drives a car with two bumper stickers - a Confederate flag and a Clinton-Kaine sticker. He is a Democrat who flies the stars and bars.

RICKY WOODS: I think if Donald Trump gets in - and I'll bluntly say it. If you can lose $916 million dollars in a year, he'll break us into two years. And we'll be broke, and we won't have nothing. So (laughter)...

SHAPIRO: I'm impressed you know that exact number.

WOODS: I've been paying attention.

SHAPIRO: Everyone we spoke to in this corner of North Carolina is paying attention. This is not a dying small town. Franklin is vibrant. And it overwhelmingly votes Republican. The town's full of cafes, with an independent bookstore and outdoor gear shop catering to hikers on the nearby Appalachian Trail. The clothing store Diva's On Main has more glitter and sequins than your typical women's wear shop. The owner, Sarah Miller, specializes in pageant gowns and also sells glittery rhinestone pins that say Trump.

SARAH MILLER: He added a lot to our industry.

SHAPIRO: Miller says when Donald Trump bought the Miss Universe Pageant, it became classier.

MILLER: The gowns were better. The girls were better. The competition was more fierce.

SHAPIRO: So what do you make of the disconnect between the Trump that you became familiar with in the pageant world and the Trump that the country and the world are seeing now as coming out in, you know, the recording from "Access Hollywood" and things like that?

MILLER: Well, I think when you're referring to 30 years ago, my favorite joke with my customers is, who didn't grope somebody 30 years ago? (Laughter) I mean, you know, that's how I got my husband. You know, so...

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

MILLER: You know...

SHAPIRO: Diva's On Main carry denim baseball caps with sequined donkeys or elephants. The elephant caps sold out right away. The donkey ones are still on the shelf. And that gives you a sense of the politics here. While some Republicans, nationally, are holding their nose to vote for Trump, many people here are all in. Carla Miller is the county GOP chair. And she let us drop in on a party meeting.

CARLA MILLER: Trump is a street fighter, if you want to call him something. He's fighting the media. He's fighting his own party, the establishment of his party. And he's fighting his opponent. I think that because of that, he emerges as our voice, our - the fights for us.

SHAPIRO: This district has a history of fighting the Republican establishment. The local congressman, Mark Meadows, introduced the motion to remove House Speaker John Boehner from power. Today the Republican establishment is mostly keeping Trump at arm's length. The last two GOP presidents and presidential nominees won't campaign for Trump. So I asked these diehards in North Carolina what they think is happening in their party. Doug Piggett answers first, followed by Valerie Niskin.

DOUG PIGGETT: The establishment characters that you've just mentioned represent the past. They're shooting themselves in the foot if they think they're ever going to have a say again in the Republican Party.

VALERIE NISKIN: Yeah, we don't feel any great loyalty to the Republican establishment at the top in Washington, not at all. And you know what we want? We want our freedoms.

PIGGETT: Yes.

NISKIN: We want our freedoms. That's it.

SHAPIRO: The people in this group mentioned guns, taxes and religious liberty. When I asked them whether they think the country will come together after the election, they all reply, sure, President Trump will unify everyone. So I clarify.

And if Hillary Clinton wins - and polls at the moment show that she's ahead nationally and in swing states - will you all be able to support her as president?

PIGGETT: It's quiet, isn't it?

SHAPIRO: It's quiet (laughter).

NISKIN: It'll be hard. It'll be hard because of the corruption, the lack of ethics. It'll be hard. But we'll do what we must.

SHAPIRO: North Carolina is a swing state that went for Obama in 2008 and Romney in 2012. If Trump hopes to win it this year, he'll have to carry places like Franklin by a huge margin to balance out the deep blue parts of the state. And even here, people express doubts. I meet Abe Norton at a coffee shop and bar called the Rathskeller.

ABE NORTON: I am a Republican. You know, I'm a staunch conservative. But I do not feel confident with Trump.

SHAPIRO: He's 29, an Army veteran who served in Iraq and now works in management at a factory. His family has lived in this area for generations.

NORTON: We don't really like to be messed with. We don't like the idea of, you know, government meddling in things. And you know, that's why when a savior like Trump comes along and says, you know, like, hey, I'm going to use the government to fix this; I'm going to use the government to fix that, you know, it makes people like me, you know, feel really uncomfortable with that. That seems like something more like, you know - to be blunt - that a Democrat would do it.

SHAPIRO: So what's going to make the decision for you?

NORTON: I think right now, if I was to walk into a polling booth today and I was to look at it, I might vote for Hillary Clinton just because I think that we would tread water, that we wouldn't advance anyway, but we wouldn't go backwards. With Trump, I think we'd go backwards.

SHAPIRO: Franklin, N.C., will never be a swing district. But to carry the state, Hillary Clinton doesn't need to win people's hearts here. She just needs enough people like Abe Norton to conclude that she's not quite as bad as the other guy. This is Ari Shapiro reporting from Franklin, N.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.