Pittsburgh churches

In Trump Country, disappointment, anger mingle with hope that Biden will unite

MIFFLINTOWN, Pa. (Reuters) – In Pennsylvania, it doesn’t get much “redder” than Juniata County, a predominantly white, rural area dotted with quaint churches, ranchers and factories than the president American Donald Trump won in the election with 80% of the vote.

Kayla Doyle, director of the GridIron Pub poses shortly after major television networks projected that Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in the presidential election, in Mifflintown, Pennsylvania, United States on November 7, 2020. REUTERS / Nathan Layne

So it was with a mixture of disappointment, suspicion and resignation that residents learned on Saturday that their state had tilted the presidential race in favor of Joe Biden, denying Trump four more years.

“It’s sickening and sad,” said Kayla Doyle, a 35-year-old Trump supporter and director of the GridIron Pub on Main Street in Mifflintown, the county seat of Juniata about 72 miles northwest of Harrisburg, the state capital. “I think it’s rigged.”

Biden’s victory in Pennsylvania, called on Saturday by all major television channels, gave him the 20 Electoral College votes he needed to win. But it was achieved by generating large margins in and around Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, with less populated areas like Juniata, with around 25,000 people, strongly behind Trump.

The rural-urban divide highlights the arduous task Biden faces in winning over voters outside of the big cities who are skeptical of his platform and believe Trump was the first president to rule with their interests at heart.

The oversized Trump sign outside his century-old brick house makes it clear who is supporting Crystal Lauver, 54. She said she did not accept screenings from TV channels, which she did not trust. She said Democrats sought to steal the election by fraud, were Communists and hated America, and predicted that Trump would successfully challenge the result in court.

Herbie Stoner, a 53-year-old Trump supporter, said he was suspicious of the Democratic Party and the integrity of the vote. He also fears that a Biden administration may not be able to match the job growth Trump has provided the region.

But Stoner, echoing the sentiment of most of the more than 50 Trump supporters polled by Reuters across Pennsylvania this week, said he was prepared to give Biden a chance.

“We’re going to have to take it and hope it does the best it can for our country,” said Stoner, who works for a septic service company in Juniata County. “If he steps up and does his job, we are all for him.”

IN GOD’S HANDS

Residents say they have benefited from the Trump presidency, citing low unemployment and the dismantling of regulations that hurt farms and factories. Empire Kosher, a poultry producer, is the largest employer in Juniata County, with approximately 750 workers.

They also generally supported Trump’s trade war with China, which they said was necessary to level the playing field for farmers and manufacturers, even if it caused short-term hardship. Many people have said they fear Biden is being too soft on China.

And they saw very little harm in the way Trump handled the COVID-19 pandemic. Many residents of Juniata County have said they believe the virus has been overestimated for political purposes by Democrats. Bars and restaurants like the GridIron Pub aren’t strict when it comes to social distancing. Despite the increase in cases in the state, people kiss, kiss and shake hands, and very few wear masks.

Nationwide protests over George Floyd’s death in May also likely helped Trump in Juniata as voters hailed his ‘law and order’ stance. Protests by Black Lives Matter supporters outside the Mifflintown courthouse were greeted by counter-protesters, who at times shouted racial slurs, two protesters told Reuters.

Some residents see the demonstrators as too confrontational and leading to the division in a county that is 97% white. On Friday night, a man in a van cranked up his engine and shouted “All Lives Matter” at a handful of protesters on Main Street.

Shay Ellis, who organized the protests, said poverty and lack of opportunity was the root of the affinity for Trump.

“I think it’s a real desperation to find a club to belong to and find someone to blame,” she said.

On Saturday, at The Bread of Life restaurant, customers from two adjacent booths were discussing the election. They agreed Democrats were trying to steal him and Biden suffered from dementia and would only be a far-left puppet, echoing Trump’s words on the campaign trail.

A middle-aged man has said he will never accept Biden as president. A woman agreed but said she would leave the situation “in the hands of God.”

Like many rural areas in the United States, Juniata is religious and socially conservative. One of the factors behind Trump’s enduring support here was his opposition to abortion.

In local newspaper The Sentinel on Saturday, a writer tried to help readers cope with Trump’s impending loss with a column titled “Despite the Results, God Has Everything Under Control”

“Yes, there will be a moment of sadness, and maybe even depression for some, but eventually we can get over it,” Debby Renninger wrote. “We will be fine! “

reporting by Nathan Layne in Mifflintown, Pennsylvania; edited by Grant McCool

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