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Home LATEST NEWS 'King' to some in Pennsylvania, but will it help the GOP?

‘King’ to some in Pennsylvania, but will it help the GOP?

By LISA MASCARO, AP Congressional Correspondent

MONONGAHELA, Pa. (AP) — The Trump-Pence banner still hangs on the oldest building on Main Street in this historic city, an enduring vestige of the campaign fervor that roused voters, including many who still believe in the falsehood that the former president did not lose in 2020 and I hope he runs in 2024.

Enthusiasm for Donald Trump’s unique brand of nationalist populism has reached traditional Democratic strongholds like Monongahela, about 25 miles south of Pittsburgh, where brick storefronts and a Slovak fellowship hall dot Main Street and church bells churches mark the hours of the day. Republicans are banking on political nostalgia for the Trump era as they battle Democrats this fall in Pennsylvania in races for governor, the US Senate and control of Congress.

“Trump came along and filled the empty space,” said Matti Gruzs, who sews old jeans into tote bags, placemats and other creations he sells at the downtown weekly Farmer’s Market. He is still the king and the kingmaker.

Against the backdrop of this picturesque location, House Republicans recently released their campaign agenda, hoping their “Pledge to America” ​​could tap into the same political sentiment Trump used to appeal not only to Republican voters, but also independents and former Democrats. But it’s unclear whether the support that propelled Trump into the White House will be there on Election Day, Nov. 8.

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Perhaps even more challenging for the GOP is whether Trump’s false claims of voter fraud will cost the party if people believe, as the defeated president claims without evidence, that the election is rigged. Some may simply decide not to participate in the elections.

“It started out as a lukewarm race,” said Dave Ball, chairman of the Republican Party in Washington County, which includes much of western Pennsylvania.

Ball said enthusiasm has been “building quickly”: His main indicator of voter interest in the election is demand for lawn signs. “We were wondering, at one point, you know, were we going to see some,” he said. “Right now, I can’t get enough.”

But Amy Michalic, who was born and raised in Monongahela and works the polls during elections, said she hears skepticism from some voters, particularly Trump supporters, “who think my vote doesn’t count.”

Trump’s fraud claims have no basis in fact. Dozens of court cases brought by Trump and his supporters have been dismissed or thrown out by judges across the country, but he continues to question Joe Biden’s victory. In every state, officials have attested to the accuracy of their elections, and Trump’s own attorney general at the time, Bill Barr, said there was no voter fraud in 2020 on a scale to change the outcome.

Reminding skeptical voters in his hometown of the importance of voting, Michaelic points out that in 2016 no one thought Trump could win. “Look what he did, he took Pennsylvania,” he said.

At the Farmer’s Market on a recent afternoon, voters shared the concerns that many people in America have expressed this election year: about the high prices of everything, about finding workers and good-paying jobs, about the culture wars.

“Where do you start?” Michelle DeHosse said, wearing an American flag T-shirt as she helped vendors set up booths.

DeHosse, who runs a custom embroidery and screen printing shop on Main Street, said he has had trouble hiring employees since the pandemic. While he said he simply can’t afford the $20 an hour and health care benefits that many claimants demand, he understands that many workers need both. “The economy is the biggest concern,” she said.

Democrats were few and far between among voters, who did not appear to have strong feelings about their picks this fall for either Senate candidate Democrat John Fetterman or Trump-backed Republican Mehmet Oz. Several said they would likely vote the party line.

“I don’t like either one,” said Carolyn McCuen, 84, as she enjoyed a Republican sunset with friends and a McDonald’s coffee at a riverside picnic table.

“Me neither,” said another Republican, Sam Reo, 76, a retired mechanical engineer, who plays old songs from the portable speaker he sets up for the group.

Both still plan to vote. Support for Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, who was outside the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, can be seen on giant billboards along Lincoln Highway, an east-west route that runs through the state.

Mastriano is a “folk hero around here,” Gruzs said, recalling his regular broadcast updates during the pandemic.

A history buff who homeschooled her children, Gruzs hasn’t missed a vote since casting her first presidential ticket for Ronald Reagan. The same goes for her husband, Sam, a plumber. They moved here two decades ago from Baltimore, looking for a better life. Now that she is a grandmother, she spends her days working on her crafts and listening to far-right broadcasts: Steve Bannon, Charlie Kirk and others.

She is not a fan of House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. and he is not convinced that he has the necessary toughness to advance the ideas of the party. But he did attend the event at a nearby manufacturing plant where lawmakers outlined the GOP agenda. She was buoyed by seeing Georgia’s far-right representative Marjorie Taylor Greene at the event with McCarthy, and she made sure to shake Greene’s hand.

“If she’s after him,” he said, and “it seemed like she had enough behind him today, pushing him.”

Trump remains popular, and the sign hanging on the Main Street building from his 2020 campaign was far from the only one visible in the state, two years after that election.

Several of the voters dismissed the investigations against Trump as nothing more than a “witch hunt” designed to prevent him from running again, despite the potentially serious charges raised in the state and federal investigations. Some voters said they did not believe the attack on Capitol Hill was an insurrection, despite the violence of Trump supporters trying to nullify Biden’s election.

Those views contrasted with the concrete facts of January 6: more than 850 people have been arrested and charged in the insurrection, some of whom received lengthy sentences from the courts for their involvement. Hours before the siege, Trump told a rallying crowd to “fight like crazy” for his presidency. Loyalists soon stormed the Capitol, grappling with the police, disrupting Congress as it certified the election results. Five people, including a Trump supporter shot by police, died immediately afterwards.

“I wish I did,” said McCuen, a retired church clerk. “But I don’t know if he wants to.”

Follow the AP for full coverage of the midterm elections on and on Twitter, https://twitter.com/ap_politics

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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