Johnstown, United States | AFP |
Pundits and pollsters say the bottom may be falling out of Donald Trump’s White House run, but diehard supporters in the western Pennsylvania city of Johnstown strongly disagree.
A few hours’ drive north and west from liberal Washington, Johnstown — the beating heart of Trump Country — is a world away from the US capital.
Industry in the region has been on the decline for decades. Smoke stacks from the steel plants have been quiet for years and large parts of its downtown are deserted.
There are few jobs remaining from the steel, coal and garment industries that once kept the local economy humming.
Many here say long-awaited deliverance has come in the person of Trump, the billionaire businessman who has promised to make Johnstown great again.
Trump’s campaign has stalled after lackluster performances at all three presidential debates with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
It also has been hurt because of the scandal over his alleged groping of women, and the furor over his unprecedented suggestion that he might not accept the outcome of the election.
But inhabitants of this part of Pennsylvania — including several thousand supporters who thronged the local convention center for a rally on Friday — pay little heed to predictions of the Republican candidate’s demise, lapping up his message of economic resurgence after decades of decline.
“He’s going to bring back businesses to Johnstown,” said a 66-year-old retired secretary who only gave her name as Chris.
“He’s going to get the steel mills running again,” she said.
A candidate known for his dystopian descriptions of America’s inner cities or the plight of the economy and military, Trump offers a seductively upbeat vision of how life will be after he moves into the White House.
“Your jobs will come back under a Trump administration. That I can tell you — including your steel, which has been decimated in this area,” he promised his ardent supporters at the rally.
“Your incomes will go up under a Trump administration, your taxes will go way, way down,” he said to applause and cheers.
“We will bring prosperity back to Johnstown. We will be putting your miners back to work… all across this city and country.”
That message resonates with Chris, who remembers what life was like when Johnstown was still an industrial mecca, before being forsaken by its business leaders and politicians.
“Main Street was crowded with people. It was booming,” she recalled.
“Right now, we have three or four restaurants and a Dollar Store. That’s it,” she said.
Walt Rozum, 84, a lifelong Democrat who worked for 30 years at Bethlehem Steel, said Trump’s message was persuasive enough to convince him to cross parties and vote for the Republican nominee.
“I think he’s going to do real well around here. I would say from what I see of it, it’s Trump Country. All along the highways, there are very few signs for Hillary,” he said.
“Trump puts his foot in his mouth every time he opens it, but people want a change,” Rozum said.
Trump rallies have become infamous for their anger and outbursts of violence — but the crowd in Johnstown was more remarkable for its ardor.
“We love you Trump!” one adoring supporter shouted during the speech, as the candidate assured Johnstown that he will restore the city to its former glory.
Trump said new jobs will be created by commissioning new weaponry for the military, and rebuilding the region’s bridges and aging roads, promising ripple effects to be felt clear across the Pennsylvania economy.
“Our politicians failed you, and betrayed you,” he said.
“They gave your jobs to foreign companies and producers… We got the poverty. They got the factories, the jobs and the wealth.”