Keystone Crossroads will be checking in with Trump voters from around the state throughout his presidency. This is the first installment in an occasional series called “I Voted Trump,” telling the story of the next four years through the eyes of the new president’s supporters.
A Jan. 17 “Radio Times” segment following up with Trump voters included the report and a conversation with Trump supporter Jessica Turpak, who is featured in the series.
A mayor and small business owner hopes for jobs
Matt Pacifico doesn’t look like a typical mayor. He’s young and hip, with an earring, and a stormtrooper helmet behind his desk. When Pacifico first ran for mayor of Altoona four years ago, he’d never held elected office, though he did have experience running a successful family business — “except I did it before Donald Trump made it cool.”
With his background, it’s no surprise that Trump’s campaign asked Pacifico to speak at the then-candidate’s August rally in Altoona.
“It was probably one of the coolest experiences ever,” said Pacifico. “I was so nervous to speak in front of that many people.”
Pacifico took the stage in front of the largest crowd the Blair County Convention Center has ever seen. He opened with a crowd-pleaser: “I am honored to have the opportunity to speak on the same stage as Mr. Donald J. Trump, our next President of the United States.”
“The crowd started to get into it,” Pacifico remembers. “And then, like, all the nerves just went away.”
Mayor Matt Pacifico at City Hall in Altoona, Pa. Pacifico publicly endorsed then-candidate Donald Trump before he spoke at a campaign rally. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)
Pacifico sees his vote for Trump from two perspectives: as a citizen, and as a mayor responsible for one of Pennsylvania’s many distressed cities. He says the biggest issue for Altoona voters is bringing back jobs, so that’s the biggest issue for him as well.
“They’re all very hopeful that Trump will be able to follow through on what he said about bringing jobs back into the communities where the industries were here at one time and then left,” said Pacifico.
Feeding the hungry and voting Trump
That includes communities like Shamokin, in what used to be Pennsylvania coal country. Today, it’s a rundown little town with 7,000 residents, a quarter of whom live under the federal poverty line. There, Jim Bowers runs God’s Chuckwagon, a mobile soup kitchen serving the region.
Bowers voted for Trump for the same reason Pacifico did.
“I just want jobs,” he said. “I just want to be able to look out there and say, ‘These people, I don’t need to feed no more. These people can make it on their own.'”
James Bowers rides in God’s Chuckwagon, a mobile soup kitchen, where he offers free meals and clothing to people in Northumberland and Schuylkill Counties. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)
God’s Chuckwagon served over 22,000 people in 2015, according to the website. Bowers says that number is always growing. He wants a president who cares about coal country, and for him, that wasn’t Barack Obama.
“I personally feel Obama ripped us down,” said Bowers. “He did a lot more harm than good for this country. And somebody has to try to put the pieces back together again.”
Small business owners for Trump — and against Obamacare
That sentiment rings true a little further north, in Schuylkill County, where Jessica Tirpak owns a small oil company with her husband. She’s 33, a mother of three boys and a lifelong Schuylkill County resident. For Tirpak, Obama’s presidency can be judged on one issue.
“Obamacare to me is my number one priority, getting rid of it,” said Tirpak. “Obamacare, if it continues in this household and something happens, we could really lose everything we worked for.”
She’s hopeful that Trump will repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. But beyond politics, Tirpak just likes the guy.
“I tend to say what I think,” said Tirpak with a laugh. “I can relate to him in that aspect, that he says what he thinks.”
In blue Philadelphia, seeing a different side of Trump
Plain talk appealed also to Seth Kaufer, a gastroenterologist and Republican ward leader in Philadelphia.
“The fact that we had an outsider who is speaking plain English at a level where all voters can understand, all that excitement is exactly what our party needed,” said Kaufer, a gay man living in bright blue Philadelphia.
He served as a Trump delegate at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this summer. Kaufer says Trump has been depicted as divisive in the media, but for him, “that is not the message that I hear from Mr. Trump and that is not what I feel among the delegates from all over the country.”
At the convention, particularly when openly gay PayPal founder Peter Thiel spoke, Kaufer said the delegates were “standing, applauding, cheering for inclusive policies.”
Dr. Seth Kaufer with President-elect Donald Trump. Kaufer grew up near Wilkes-Barre and remembers becoming a Republican at age 14 when he learned about the party’s Contract with America during civics class. (Image courtesy of Kaufer)
Hoping Trump will bring black voters to the Republican party
Kaufer’s fellow ward leader, Daphne Goggins, says as a black woman she felt very welcomed by the campaign.
“I’ve never seen anything less racist than the Republican party,” said Goggins. “Yeah, a lot of them are white, but some of them are black also. We are a big tent party.”
Goggins is a community activist and a recovering drug addict. She’s a mother, grandmother and a lifelong Republican. Goggins campaigned for Trump because she thinks he is the country’s best chance to defeat ISIS, stop illegal immigration and bring jobs back.
If Trump is successful, Goggins says, he could be the catalyst to bring more black voters over to the Republican party. But she’s circumspect about what that success would look like.
“What I expect is for him to lay the foundation for us to be able to do some things different,” said Goggins. “I was telling my ward leaders, our work really begins now.”
Daphne Goggins (center) with her grandson Amare Jenkins, 6, during a campaign event for Beth Grossman, a Republican candidate for district attorney, in Philadelphia. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)
After a hard-fought campaign, a reality check
Back on Election Night, Ben Hornberger, a 23-year-old who served in the Marines and now lives in Altoona, was ready to let loose and celebrate the victory.
“It’s been a long, long stretch,” said Hornberger at the Blair County Republicans watch party. “I’ve been working since April with the campaign. I’ve been doing this for a long time and it’s … it’s so good right now.”
Hornberger campaigned for Obama in 2012, but by 2016, he was one of the Trump campaign’s most committed volunteers. He took time off from work to attend rallies around the state and put in long hours at campaign headquarters.
But by Christmas, the election night high had tempered.
“I don’t expect him to be able to fulfill all of his campaign promises in four years,” said Hornberger. “Four years is not a long time.”
In 2012, Ben Hornberger, pictured here at Zach’s Sports Bar in Altoona, Pa., volunteered for the Obama campaign. This election cycle, he threw his full support behind President-elect Donald Trump. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)
Hornberger has some non-negotiables. He wants Trump to deregulate the energy industry — he hopes that will bring jobs back to Pennsylvania — and crack down on ISIS.
“When he was like, ‘you just need to bomb the hell out of them,’ it was like yes! Absolutely,” said Hornberger of Trump’s plan to eradicate ISIS from the Middle East.
Hornberger works at a DSL call center, making $20,000 a year. He’s hoping to go to college so he can one day follow in the footsteps of Trump and run for office himself.
Cold feet for a former Bernie Sanders supporter
Pittsburgh resident Penny Stenger was a lifelong Republican until 2008, when she voted for Obama. She backed Bernie Sanders during the primary, but when he lost, she turned to Trump.
On Election Day, she remembers thinking, “What am I doing here? Why am I voting for Mr. Trump?” But Stenger said her anti-abortion stance led her to vote the way she did.
“It really is about that,” said Stenger in late November. “He will have a chance to nominate and put in three or four judges and it will overturn what should be overturned.”
But by early January, things had changed.
“I’ve been pondering the election,” said Stenger. “I talked about voting for him because of pro-life then I realized after the election, he’s not pro-life. If I were to do it again, it would be Hillary. It would have to be.”
Not because Hillary Clinton is anti-abortion (she’s not) but because Stenger agrees with Clinton on other policies beyond that issue.
Penny Stenger and her husband Thomas Stenger at their Pittsburgh home. She voted for Donald Trump and he voted for Hilary Clinton. (Jessica Kourkounis/for Keystone Crossroads)
Taking the next generation of voters to the inauguration
Up north, in Erie County, Trump voters Phil and Marian Spotts came around to Donald Trump slowly during the primary campaign. But now, they’re all in, so much so that they’re taking a bus to D.C. for the inauguration and bringing their granddaughter with them.
“I think it will be a good experience for Allie that she’ll remember this the rest of her life,” said Phil Spotts. “And we’ve never experienced the inauguration.”
Seventeen-year-old Allie Skinner couldn’t be more excited. Despite being too young to vote, the budding politico was a vocal Trump supporter and stayed up until 4 a.m. watching election returns.
“It would just mean the world to me to get to go and support Trump as the peaceful transfer of power comes,” she said. “And just to be a part of the American system and see that this is how our government works and it’s really truly amazing.”
Phil and Marian Spotts talk with their granddaughter, Allison Skinner, at their home in Waterford, Pa. The Spotts ultimately supported Donald Trump for president, though they didn’t start out that way. Skinner, 17, isn’t old enough to vote, but followed the election closely. (Margaret Krauss/WESA)