Battleground Breakdown

Welcome To Uniontown, Pennsylvania

With Pennsylvania arguably up for grabs, all eyes are on voters in places like Uniontown, a city in the southwestern corner of the state. Fayette County has voted dependably Democratic for decades. Hillary Clinton received nearly 80% of the county's votes in the primary, but at the time, she hinted that counties like this could be vulnerable if she didn't get the nomination.

And so we visited the area this week to find out if people truly are second-guessing their traditional party affiliations. We also ate a lot of raw corn. David Greene has a story on All Things Considered this afternoon about the people (and the corn) we encountered. Here's some more of what we saw:

beauty world

hide captionUniontown's city center has been revitalized in recent years, old and new interspersed: internet cafe, restaurants, gift shops, dive bars, churches, and a CVS.

David Gilkey/NPR

The coal boom in Uniontown, Pennsylvania ended in the 1950s, but as little as five years ago, the church spires and domes of downtown were still dark with soot. The coal mined here was heated in coke ovens and sent to Pittsburgh as fuel for the steel mills. At the peak of the coal boom, Uniontown was home to quite a few millionaires, but the mines are now depleted.
These days, other industries have moved in to take the place of the mines — a defense contractor employs some 300 people in stripping down and repairing Bradley Fighting Vehicles. The hospital is another major employer.

The downtown area wasn't exactly bustling when we arrived. We could hear jukebox music and dive bar banter (mostly about the Pittsburgh Steelers) through open doorways. A gigantic banner of George C. Marshall — who was born in Uniontown — hangs from the side of a building. Restaurants and cafes have replaced storefronts abandoned in the '70s. And the town's more historic sites, like the Tidwell Hotel, have been refurbished.

That's also true of the State Theater on Main Street, built in 1922.

Erica Miller

hide captionErica Miller is the production coordinator at the State Theater in Uniontown.

David Gilkey/NPR

"It opened as a movie palace and a vaudeville house," Erica Miller told us. She's the theater's production coordinator and says that when the theater closed, it was converted into a music hall that brought country and even disco acts to town. Today it serves as an art venue and screens classic films.

"We have a hard time getting by financially, especially in these economic times when going out to see the arts is not a necessity," she said.

Miller, 38, called herself an "oddball" to be a Republican who working in the arts, saying she will vote for McCain. But registered Republicans are somewhat unusual in this county, which has voted solidly Democratic since 1929 with only one exception (Richard Nixon's re-election in 1972).

Henry Busek

hide captionBefore we met him, Henry Busek bought his corn at another stand near the mall. He'd been hearing good things about the variety of corn at this stand and had to check it out. A registered Democrat, Busek's curiosity for new things does not extend to the Republican party.

David Gilkey/NPR

Busek is a sixth-grade teacher in town, and we met him at this roadside corn stand (which for the record had some of the sweetest and juiciest corn we'd ever tasted... even though it was raw.) He's a registered Democrat.

"I'm not saying that Obama is the answer, but I'm not voting Republican — no way, shape, or form," he said.

Sam Wood, who sells the corn, is also a registered Democrat. However, he's voting for McCain.

Down the street, we also talked to Jack and Sheila Sweet. Sheila grew up ten miles from Uniontown and is voting for McCain. Her husband, Jack works for an intelligence-communications business. His company moved to Uniontown for the low labor rates and has retrained local workers.

"We have people out there who were welders," he said. "One of our biggest contracts is we build wire harnesses for Bombardier. The guys that had the background and experience in welding were perfect at the soldering of putting together these things."

Jack and Shiela Sweet

hide captionJack Sweet is leaning toward Obama. Sheila Sweet will vote for McCain. They joke that they often cancel each other out.

David Gilkey/NPR

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