Wilkes-Barre eager for Trump visit for GOP Senate candidate Barletta

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Lynette Villano, a former Trump Delegate from Luzerne County, Pa., is excited for President Trump's visit to Wilkes-Barre on Thursday, Aug. 2.

Lynette Villano, a former Trump Delegate from Luzerne County, Pa., is excited for President Trump's visit to Wilkes-Barre on Thursday, Aug. 2. "Everybody I know is excited," said Villano. (Natalie Piserchio for WHYY)

President Donald Trump will visit Northeastern Pennsylvania Thursday, set to speak to an audience in Luzerne County, which helped deliver the state to Trump in 2016.

A day before his appearance, Republicans in the small, working-class community of Wilkes-Barre said their support of the president has not wavered over the last 18 months.

Trump will be stumping for former Hazletown mayor and current U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, who is trying to unseat U.S. Sen. Bob Casey in the November election.

Casey has a much larger campaign war chest, and polls are strongly favoring the Democrat. But that doesn’t faze longtime Wilkes-Barre GOP activist Lynette Villano, who brushed off the polls’ accuracy, comparing them with all those that predicted Hillary Clinton would win the presidency.

In the 2016 primary, Luzerne County Republicans had the highest Trump voting percentage in all of Pennsylvania.

“We got Donald Trump elected,” said Villano. “Now we need to get the people elected that are going to go there to support his agenda. And that’s why this visit tomorrow is so important.”

The usually quiet town of 40,000 was abuzz Wednesday about Trump’s visit.

And skepticism about voter polls and the media’s treatment of the president sounded in conversations on almost every corner. In a front-page story in the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, Barletta advised not trusting the “political experts.”

Bob “Cisco” Cassaro, of Blakeslee, Pa., standing outside Maggie’s Tavern in Saylorsburg, Pa. (Natalie Piserchio for WHYY)

At Maggie’s Tavern, a bikers’ bar and gathering spot for Trump supporters, retired construction worker Bob Cassaro said the press is too hard on the president.

“Bunch of propaganda stuff, you know what I’m saying? Everybody’s trying to put him down. Leave him alone. Let him do his thing,” Cassaro said.

Border security is the issue closest to Cassaro’s heart, and he’s counting on Trump to make good on his plan to build a wall along the border with Mexico.

“We got enough of them over here already … the import people. They’re working for nothing, under the tables and stuff,” he said. “They’re taking away our jobs, our money.”

Cassaro and his friend George Bobchick are planning to go to the Trump rally Thursday.

“I think us in Pennsylvania, we’re kinda small-town compared to the big cities,” said Bobchick, a trucker and Navy veteran. “You got a problem on the East Coast. You got a problem on the West Coast, of course California. The people in between, for the most part, they understand President Trump.”

Still, Bobchick said, there’s something about Trump’s East Coast upbringing that appeals to him.

“And because he’s got tough New York rhetoric that he talks. A lot of people are shocked by that,” he said. “I love it.”

Reasons to believe

Bobchick said he’s been thrilled with Trump’s accomplishments: tax cuts, new tariffs, and the immigration crackdown. Many rural Pennsylvanians are not tuned in to international affairs, he said, but Trump’s recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin impressed him and many of his friends.

“If you want to negotiate, you don’t go in there and yell at the guy and tell him what a bad dude he is,” Bobchick said. “You go over there, and you sit and make nice, and you negotiate. Maybe we can get something out of that.”

George Bobchick (left) stands next to his long-time friend, Bob “Cisco” Cassaro outside Maggie’s Tavern, a biker bar in Saylorsburg, Pa. The pair met while riding nine years ago. (Natalie Piserchio for WHYY)

Not far from Maggie’s, appliance repairman Jeremy Linds credited Trump’s economic policies as the reason his business has increased.

The working class vote was underestimated in 2016 — and likely will be again in November, said Linds.

“Because we’re silent. Because I’m too busy working and worrying about my everyday life to worry about politics,” he said. “So you might not hear from me about it until it’s time.”

Trump also may be hearing from some not-so-friendly Wilkes-Barre residents Thursday evening. Protest organizer Joe Biscotto anticipates hundreds to demonstrate at the 7 p.m. rally.

“Donald Trump is not the champion of the working man. He never has been,” Biscotto said. “He’s been nothing but screw the working man his entire career. We just want to make people aware of that.”
Lynette Villano, a former Trump Delegate from Luzerne County, Pa., wears her Trump pin with pride, a day before Trump’s visit to Wilkes-Barre. (Natalie Piserchio for WHYY)

Still, Villano said she’s proud to wear her Trump pin everywhere she goes to let people know it’s OK to support him.

“And it’s wonderful, because it does give people the opportunity to say, ‘Oh, a Trump supporter, somebody I can talk to.’ Because sometimes they are made to feel like they’re not educated,” she said.

What she described as harsh media coverage and overly critical news outlets have not dimmed her estimation of the president.

“So considering that, and that he’s still as popular as he is, people obviously aren’t listening to mainstream media,” Villano said.

But the many who can’t get into Trump’s rally tomorrow will be tuning in, she said, to watch the president campaign for Barletta.

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