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Trump Visits Pa. County That Has A Special Election In March


On one of the last days of his first year in office, President Trump traveled to southwest Pennsylvania, a mountainous region that voted big for Trump in a swing state that helped to give him the White House. NPR's Don Gonyea is in that region in Monroeville, Pa.

Don, good morning.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Why'd the president go there?

GONYEA: Well, we're in an election year for starters. This congressional district, Pennsylvania 18, has a special election coming up on March 13. And it's seen as one of those early indicators as to maybe how the midterms could go this year, how Trump's playing.

It's an area where Trump did very, very well in 2016. He won the district by almost 20 points. The special is to fill a seat that's been held by a Republican. Republicans do have an advantage here. But Democrats have won in some unlikely places since Trump took office and hope this is another.

INSKEEP: Won in Alabama not so long ago, as a matter of fact.

GONYEA: Exactly.

INSKEEP: So what did the president say as he visited a factory in Pennsylvania?

GONYEA: Well, he was here promoting what he sees as his successes as president, things he often complains that he doesn't get enough credit for - things like an unemployment rate that's down to 4.1 percent and a stock market that's at a record high. Just give a listen.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Pensions and retirement accounts are surging in value as the stock market smashes one record high after another. How many people have 401(k)s here?


TRUMP: You're brilliant investors.

INSKEEP: OK. So that's what the president is saying. What are Pennsylvania voters saying?

GONYEA: I've been in places like Washington, Pa., and Waynesburg and Monroeville here. And I've been talking to Trump voters to see if they are as pro-Trump as they once were after, you know, a year in. Mostly the answer is yes, but you do hear some complaints. A lot of it's about his Twitter habits or complaints about things like the vulgarity he's alleged to have used during that White House immigration meeting last week.

But still, support for him appears to be strong here, especially from those who work in coal mining. This is coal country. 48-year-old Paul Walker is a good example of that. He was headed to the mine when he called my cell phone.

PAUL WALKER: Yeah. We're all pretty pumped up about what's been going on with Trump and all the support.

GONYEA: Some coal mines are seeing increased production now - more shifts, more hours. There are a lot of reasons for that, notably that the rising price of natural gas helps coal compete. But overwhelmingly, these workers also credit Trump, who has cut some Obama-era environmental regulations on mines.

But they also just like the guy. Walker says the more unpolished Trump is, the better.

WALKER: Trump was not a politician. He did not come up through all the bullcrap and the handshakes and the elbow-rubbing. He came in. And I think it's a direct approach. I like his twitters (ph). If you watch my Twitter account, I retweet just about everything that he puts out.

GONYEA: Now let's meet Republican state senator Camera Bartolotta. She offers some perspective on the politics of this place. She says this part of the country has changed. It's still full of Democrats, lots of union members. But Democratic candidates can't just count on those votes anymore. And much of it is over environmental policies, what Trump and a lot of Republicans like to call the war on coal. Here's Senator Bartolotta.

CAMERA BARTOLOTTA: I think it's because people really got a message of, look, we have to fight for our jobs. We have to fight for the energy industry. Of course coal mining is different now. Of course you're not going to need 2,000 coal miners in a coal mine. We've got automation. We've got machines. We've got, you know, better technology. But you know what? We still need coal.

INSKEEP: Some Pennsylvanians who've been talking with NPR's Don Gonyea who's in southwestern Pennsylvania.

And Don, I want to invite you to cross the divide here a little bit because we get a question from Democrats, people on the left, on Twitter and elsewhere anytime we put Trump voters on the air. They ask - why keep interviewing Trump voters? They never change. They're out of touch. Why? Why? Why? This is a question that gets asked a lot.

So let me just ask you, Don Gonyea. Why talk to Trump voters?

GONYEA: Well, first, we talk to voters of all kinds - of all stripes. It's important to hear from all of them. As for the Trump voters, it's important to know, A, if they're still with him. But it's good to hear how they talk about him and how that may change over time, if there are shifts. Is there strong support suddenly? I back him. I like him - but. It's important to hear that.

Also, in states where the vote's very close, any movement among any voter group can make the difference.

INSKEEP: And the president's approval rating is down. It's gone down since the beginning of his term, but core supporters seem still with him.

Don Gonyea, thanks very much.

GONYEA: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Don Gonyea reporting today from Monroeville, Pa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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