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Working-class whites break from Democrats to choose Trump

A pro-Donald Trump sign sits outside a used car dealership in Clay County, Tennessee. Trump won more than double the votes of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the county in the primary election. (Lian Bunny/News21)

Trump signs in her backyard. Trump magnets on her refrigerator. Trump buttons on her dining room table. Kathy Miller is the Mahoning County chairwoman for Donald Trump.

While handing out Trump signs in June at a Republican headquarters just south of Youngstown, Ohio, she was approached by a woman in her late 80s, who said, “I have never voted Republican in my life. Give me the biggest sign you’ve got.”

In economically struggling communities like Mahoning County — where most steel mills have closed — many white, working-class Democrats are voting for Trump, registration records and 2016 presidential primary results show.

“They’re just all fed up,” Miller said. “It may be the economy for some, it may be the school systems, it could be health care, it could be immigration, education, it could be anything. They’re just fed up with the direction of our country. Mr. Trump showed up at the right time.”

盈彩彩票Kathy Miller, the Mahoning County chairwoman for Donald Trump, decorated her garden in Boardman, Ohio, with a pro-gun-rights sign, a Cleveland Browns sign and an American flag. She said people are fed up with the direction of the country and are looking to Trump for change. (Lian Bunny/News21) 盈彩彩票Enlarge

Kathy Miller, the Mahoning County chairwoman for Donald Trump, decorated her garden in Boardman, Ohio, with a pro-gun-rights sign, a Cleveland Browns sign and an American flag. She said people are fed up with the direction of the country and are looking to Trump for change. (Lian Bunny/News21)

盈彩彩票A Donald Trump campaign sign and Ohio state flag decorate Miller's backyard. Miller is leading a grassroots movement encouraging Democratic voters to vote for Trump in November’s general election. (Emily Mills/News21) 盈彩彩票Enlarge

A Donald Trump campaign sign and Ohio state flag decorate Miller's backyard. Miller is leading a grassroots movement encouraging Democratic voters to vote for Trump in November’s general election. (Emily Mills/News21)

According to a November 2015 Public Religion Research Institute , 72 percent of Americans and 78 percent of white working-class Americans believe the country still is in a recession. A News21 analysis of the General Social Survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago also found that in 2002, the percentage of white Americans with hardly any confidence in the executive branch of the federal government was just under 20 percent, the lowest it had been between 2002 and 2014. By 2014, that number was nearly 50 percent.

“The disenfranchised voter who has lost their job as a result of policies affecting the coal industry and other heavy manufacturing jobs are feeling very frustrated with Washington,” said Rex Repass, founder and CEO of Repass, a national public opinion research and strategic consulting firm. “Even though many are historically Democratic counties, they have become very red and very angry.”

People of the Appalachian region have experienced loss of industries and a way of life over the decades. With election season in full swing, these residents are coming out like never before to show their support for an unlikely candidate who promises big change for their communities. (Edited by Taylor Gilmore, video by Taylor Gilmore and Lian Bunny/News21)

In Tennessee, after a clothing factory outsourced jobs and operations to Mexico, a county that voted Democratic in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections went Republican in both 2008 and 2012.

In Mahoning County, Ohio, as its county seat Youngstown labors under the loss of the steel industry, more than 6,000 voters have switched from Democrat to Republican this year.

Similarly, frustration over closing steel mills and rising health care costs have swayed nearly 5,400 voters to switch parties in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.

And in one Kentucky county where residents frustrated with the demise of the coal industry voted about 31 percent Republican in the 2000 presidential election, they voted more than 72 percent Republican in 2012, even though a majority of its voters remain registered Democrats.

A sign advertises a plot of land is for sale in Youngstown, Ohio. The economically struggling area has a poverty rate of about 40 percent. (Lian Bunny/News21)

Economic distress

Clay County, Tennessee, which borders Kentucky, used to be 盈彩彩票 to four garment factories. Celina, the county seat, had two.

The largest of these factories was children’s clothing factory OshKosh, which employed between 1,500 and 2,000 from the 1950s to the 1990s. In a county with a population of between 7,000 and 8,000, everyone worked there or knew someone who did.

“Just about everybody who wanted a job, if they’d work, they had a job at OshKosh,” said Doug Young, director of the county’s Three Star Initiative, a program focused on improving the county’s infrastructure to bring jobs to the area.

盈彩彩票An American flag decorates a Clay County, Tennessee, street of empty buildings and economically struggling small businesses. The county has a 24 percent poverty rate. (Lian Bunny/News21) 盈彩彩票Enlarge

An American flag decorates a Clay County, Tennessee, street of empty buildings and economically struggling small businesses. The county has a 24 percent poverty rate. (Lian Bunny/News21)

盈彩彩票A lock and chain secure the door of Holt’s Variety Store in Celina, Tennessee. Holt’s is one of many closed storefronts in the city. (Lian Bunny/News21) 盈彩彩票Enlarge

A lock and chain secure the door of Holt’s Variety Store in Celina, Tennessee. Holt’s is one of many closed storefronts in the city. (Lian Bunny/News21)

The factory shut its doors in November 1996 and moved its operations to Mexico, taking advantage of the cheap labor options the North American Free Trade Agreement provided. The agreement’s purpose was to establish a free-trade zone in North America by lifting tariffs on a majority of goods the U.S., Mexico and Canada produce and trade with one another.

Almost overnight, unemployment spiked to nearly 30 percent as hundreds of northern Tennessee residents lost jobs.

Racoe Inc., a military fabric cutting company, moved into the old OshKosh factory in December 1997. Only six people now work in the 66,000-square-foot building.

The county worked to recover from the loss, and logging is now a valued industry in the heavily forested area. Log trucks pass through the small downtown several times an hour.

Unemployment in Clay County, which is nearly , has petered out to a little more than 5 percent in May 2016, just over the May national average of 4.7 percent.

Yet the county still has a 24 percent poverty rate and historically Democratic voters are switching to the Republican Party. In March’s Republican primary, Trump Clay county 57.1 percent to Ted Cruz’s 17.1 percent and had more than double the votes of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

盈彩彩票Clay County, Tennessee, is mostly timber and farmland, and logging is a valued industry. The area is starting to recover economically, but many residents still blame the Obama administration for lost jobs. (Lian Bunny/News21) 盈彩彩票Enlarge

Clay County, Tennessee, is mostly timber and farmland, and logging is a valued industry. The area is starting to recover economically, but many residents still blame the Obama administration for lost jobs. (Lian Bunny/News21)

盈彩彩票Water sprinkles piles of logs at Honest Abe Log 盈彩彩票s in Clay County, Tennessee. The family-owned business used to employ about 500 but now employs 130. (Lian Bunny/News21) 盈彩彩票Enlarge

Water sprinkles piles of logs at Honest Abe Log 盈彩彩票s in Clay County, Tennessee. The family-owned business used to employ about 500 but now employs 130. (Lian Bunny/News21)

Timothy Scott, the former Democratic chairman in Clay County, said older people come to retire in Clay County because of nearby Dale Hollow Lake, which attracts 3.2 million visitors to the county annually. Scott said more of these retirees , but he still attributes much of Trump’s appeal to his rhetoric.

“I think his popularity is (because) just everybody is mad, and he is saying what they feel,” he said. “There will be a lot of Democrats voting for him.”

While older generations have been moving into the community, Scott said young people in the area are leaving because there aren’t jobs once they graduate.

盈彩彩票Roy Rogergray, 71, has lived in Celina, Tennessee, all his life and is voting for Donald Trump in November. He said he doesn’t care for Trump’s personality, but he agrees with most of his policies. (Emily Mills/News21)

Roy Rogergray, 71, has lived in Celina, Tennessee, all his life and is voting for Donald Trump in November. He said he doesn’t care for Trump’s personality, but he agrees with most of his policies. (Emily Mills/News21)

Young said Clay County voters feel ignored by politicians who they believe aren’t doing anything to bring jobs back to the area. “I really do think it’s this attitude that we lost our jobs and nobody’s really come to help us,” Young said.

In the Rust Belt of Ohio and Pennsylvania, steel was the dominant industry. But as steel companies outsourced their labor to mills in China盈彩彩票, voters also grew frustrated with the job loss.

“When the steel industry collapsed in the 1970s … this region was literally not prepared for the shutdown of the steel mills,” said Bertram de Souza, a political columnist for the Vindicator newspaper in Youngstown.

盈彩彩票Bertram de Souza is a columnist for The Vindicator, a newspaper in Youngstown, Ohio, and has worked in the area for 37 years. Although some in the traditionally Democratic area believe Donald Trump can bring back the area’s once-dominant steel industry, de Souza said it’s unrealistic to expect the large factories to reopen. (Photo by Emily Mills, audio by Jimmy Miller/News21)

PLAY Bertram de Souza is a columnist for The Vindicator, a newspaper in Youngstown, Ohio, and has worked in the area for 37 years. Although some in the traditionally Democratic area believe Donald Trump can bring back the area’s once-dominant steel industry, de Souza said it’s unrealistic to expect the large factories to reopen. (Photo by Emily Mills, audio by Jimmy Miller/News21)

Forty years after its steel mills closed, Youngstown’s poverty rate is just over 40 percent.

“The opportunities aren’t here,” said Frankie Susany, 50, who grew up in the Youngstown area and now works there as a small-business owner. “What used to be a thriving city in Youngstown is brown fields, abandoned mills, abandoned buildings, abandoned factories.”

Trump’s “Make America Great Again” message resonates with Susany, who said that when he grew up, young people who worked in the steel mills had great lives. They drove new cars and had their own places to live right out of high school.

Now, with that steel industry gone, Susany believes voters need to cast their ballots with future generations in mind. “That’s what this election is about,” he said. “If we don’t change it now, our grandchildren are never going to know the America that (people my age) grew up in.”

In the March 2008 primary, just under 14 percent of registered voters in Mahoning County – where Youngstown is located – voted Republican. During this year’s state primary in March, more than 48 percent of the county’s registered voters cast a Republican ballot, and poll workers had to print additional Republican ballots. More than 6,000 voters then switched from Democratic to Republican this year.

Leo Connelly Jr. is a Vietnam veteran and former salesman who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 but switched to Republican this year to vote for Trump in the primary. “I was sold on the fact that Obama could turn this country around,” he said. “We don’t want to get fooled again.”

In Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, which is with nearly a 10 percent poverty rate, 5,400 voters switched to the Republican Party to vote for Trump in the primary. The region’s steel factories shut down in the 1980s, and residents remain bitter about the job loss, said Blair Adams, a third-generation owner of K Castings Inc., a manufacturing plant.

“The steel industry as a whole, the big foundries that pour the molten metal, they’re gone,” he said. “All these people that are in this manufacturing area are definitely shifting (parties) because they understand that their jobs are at risk.”

Blair Adams is the third-generation owner of a family-run steel casting shop in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Adams feels Donald Trump’s business background will help small-business owners in the area’s struggling steel industries. (Edited by Emily Mills, video by Taylor Gilmore/News21)

For generations in Kentucky’s coalfields, including the town of Hindman, families spent most of their lives working underground in the mines. As those jobs disappear, Democrats are looking to options outside their party for change and the chance for an improved economy.

“What’s happened here (is) a catastrophe on top of a disaster,” said Mimi Pickering, a filmmaker with Appalshop, a media training center in nearby Whitesburg. “The last few years we’ve lost a great number of coal mining jobs, but really the coal economy has been declining and the employment in the industry has been declining since the 1950s.”

As coal became more scarce and expensive to mine in eastern Kentucky, coal companies moved to states such as Montana and Wyoming, where the work is easier and cheaper. The companies also started to use advanced mining technology, eliminating the need for a large number of miners.

盈彩彩票A security guard walks past coal mining equipment at Enterprise Mining Co. in Redfox, Kentucky. The mine went idle in July because of a lack of sales. (Emily Mills/News21) 盈彩彩票Enlarge

A security guard walks past coal mining equipment at Enterprise Mining Co. in Redfox, Kentucky. The mine went idle in July because of a lack of sales. (Emily Mills/News21)

盈彩彩票Before the coal mine went idle in July, workers went underground to mine coal at Enterprise Mining Co. in Redfox, Kentucky. (Lian Bunny/News21) 盈彩彩票Enlarge

Before the coal mine went idle in July, workers went underground to mine coal at Enterprise Mining Co. in Redfox, Kentucky. (Lian Bunny/News21)

Meanwhile, the government put environmental regulations into place, encouraging states to switch from coal to natural gas as a power source. Kentucky residents such as Ballard Combs, an 81-year-old former coal miner from Knott County, see Obama as the face of these changes.

“I loved the mines,” said Combs, who worked underground most of his adult life. “Obama shut them all down.”

Nearly 90 percent of registered voters in Knott County, which is 98 percent , are because it’s what their families have been for generations.

But since 2008, the county has increasingly voted for the Republican presidential candidate. Both Combs and his father were Democrats, but he’s voting for Trump.

Knott County Clerk Ken Gayheart said registered Democrats come into his office daily to switch their registration to the GOP. When the coal companies left, Gayheart said no industries moved in to fill the vacancy.

“These old hills were never worth much,” Gayheart said. “We don’t do anything, we don’t make anything here in Knott County.”

An abandoned coal mining machine sits at the Yellow Mountain Surface Mine in Mousie, Kentucky, in Knott County. There are no active coal mines left in the county, and residents blame President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party for the diminishing industry and economy. (Emily Mills/News21)

Nearly 34 percent of the county’s residents live below the poverty line. In May, the unemployment rate was 10.5 percent.

“Eastern Kentucky is in tough shape, but a lot of rural America is in a tough time,” said Tim Marema, vice president of the Center for Rural Strategies in nearby Whitesburg. “Something needs to change. That’s the point for the residents on the Trump side.”

‘I just don’t like the Democrats’ policies anymore’

Pervis Jacobs, 65, grew up in Hindman, Kentucky. He’s a lifelong Democrat, but he’s voting for Trump. “I feel like I have no choice,” said Jacobs. “I just don’t like the Democrats’ policies anymore.”

盈彩彩票Pervis Jacobs, 65, who worked as a mechanic, carpenter and school bus driver, said he’s been a Democrat for as long as he can remember. But he’s voting for Donald Trump this November. The Knott County, Kentucky, resident said his son-in-law has worked in Kentucky coal mines for 30 years and has suffered under the Obama administration. (Photo and audio by Lian Bunny/News21)

PLAY Pervis Jacobs, 65, who worked as a mechanic, carpenter and school bus driver, said he’s been a Democrat for as long as he can remember. But he’s voting for Donald Trump this November. The Knott County, Kentucky, resident said his son-in-law has worked in Kentucky coal mines for 30 years and has suffered under the Obama administration. (Photo and audio by Lian Bunny/News21)

Many Trump supporters criticize increasing government regulations, President Obama’s health care law and immigration.

Nick Patterson, joint operating officer of Honest Abe Log 盈彩彩票s and president of Barky Beaver Mulch in Clay County, Tennessee, said the companies used to employ about 500 people and now employ 130.

“I think one of the things that’s so key in this political conversation over the last couple years is our overhead per employee has increased drastically,” he said. “It has come from federal regulations.”

Nick Patterson is joint operating officer of Honest Abe Log 盈彩彩票s and president of Barky Beaver Mulch just outside of Celina, Tennessee. His company is connected to multiple family-owned ventures, all affected by a struggling lumber market Patterson feels Hillary Clinton won’t help. (Edited by Jimmy Miller, video by Taylor Gilmore/News21)

Patterson said China盈彩彩票’s economic situation has hurt his small business because there’s not enough domestic business. Over 50 percent of his produced lumber will end up overseas.

Leslie Rossi, leader of a grassroots movement for Trump in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, said she was initially drawn to Trump because he said he would repeal Obamacare. Rossi, a landlord, painted one of her rental houses red, white and blue to support the GOP candidate.

Yelayna Rossi, 13, and Ekaterina Trimble, 14, hold Donald Trump signs in front of a rental property painted red, white and blue in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Yelayna Rossi’s mother, Leslie Rossi, is a landlord who owns the property and painted the house in support of the GOP presidential candidate. (Emily Mills/News21)

“Obamacare didn’t work, and it’s just been a burden,” Rossi said. “People still don’t have health care, and the people that did are paying more than they’ve ever paid. It’s changed in such a worse direction.”

Rossi also said she believes immigrants take benefits that Americans, especially veterans, should be receiving. “How can you bring an immigrant in and give them free health care, and people that are American citizens that fought for us, you’re just not giving them the things they need?” Rossi said. “It’s sickening.”

Lawfully present immigrants in the U.S. are able to purchase health care, but undocumented immigrants are not eligible to purchase coverage unless they apply on behalf of documented individuals, according to .

Leslie Rossi leads a grassroots movement for GOP candidate Donald Trump in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Rossi publicly endorsed the nominee by painting one of her future rental houses red, white and blue, adorning it with Trump signs. (Edited by Lian Bunny, video by Taylor Gilmore, photos by Emily Mills/News21)

Veterans are eligible for coverage through the .

A News21 analysis found in 2014, just over 48 percent of white Americans thought the number of immigrants should be reduced, according to data from the General Social Survey. Only 13 percent of the same demographic believe the number of immigrants should be increased.

The survey also found in 2014, nearly 29 percent of white Americans think immigrants take jobs away, and roughly another 7 percent strongly agree.

Patterson said Trump is seen as a political outsider, especially to those who have felt ignored by typical politicians.

“When you get to the federal level, I think people do feel like they've not been listened to because you've seen policies being handed down that have not helped them,” he said. “I think some of the campaign promises that were made on that have simply not been true. And I think that affects people.”

Miller, the Mahoning County chairwoman for Trump, said Americans should forget politicians. Trump appeals to her because he’s a businessman, and Trump’s business background will create jobs and improve the economy.

“We need someone who understands business, can get things done, understands how the economy works (and) has employed people,” she said. “I think that’s my biggest beef with our regular politicians. … And I think Mr. Trump, he’s done it all.”

Scott, the former Democratic chairman in Clay County, Tennessee, said Republican candidates always talk about social issues such as immigration, gun control and gay rights, but the discussion this year seems louder than in past elections.

“(Trump’s) demeanor has brought a lot of these people out,” said Scott, who isn’t voting for Trump. “He’s made them vocal. He gives them courage.”

Miller said his supporters are seeking a definitive change, one they believe they will find in Trump.

“I think the generation like mine, we’ve seen it all. We’ve heard all the promises and we’ve just decided we’re done,” she said. “We just want a country that works, we want jobs, we want to protect our borders, we want to have a life for our children.”

Taylor Gilmore contributed to this report.

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