STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And I'm Steve Inskeep at our member station WVXU in Cincinnati, Ohio. We're meeting very different voters in this divided state. We're hearing them before and then after this weekend's presidential debate. When you learn where they come from, you better understand where they're coming from.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDREN PLAYING)
INSKEEP: So this is a little playground, a day care facility out back of the Church of the Living God in Avondale, which is a neighborhood of Cincinnati that perhaps has seen better days. Here and there you'll see a city block with only a single house still standing. The others have been torn down. We're heading into the church to meet the pastor, Ennis Tait, who's going to talk with us about this city and this election.
Hey, Steve Inskeep with NPR.
ENNIS TAIT: Hey. Yes, sir - how's it going? What's up (unintelligible)?
TAIT: How you doing sir?
INSKEEP: Good to see you.
TAIT: How are you doing, sir? It's all good.
INSKEEP: Pastor Ennis Tait was in his office just off the sanctuary. Sunlight poured through stained glass windows onto his face. He serves in a church founded in the 1800s by a former slave.
It grew out of the South, ended up all over the Midwest, and it's been here in Cincinnati for a long time.
TAIT: Yes, sir.
INSKEEP: OK. You don't have to call me sir, by the way.
TAIT: I'm from southern Mississippi.
TAIT: It's innate in me.
INSKEEP: He grew up on Mississippi's Gulf Coast in a city famous for shipbuilding.
Did you come from a shipbuilding family?
TAIT: I did. Both of my parents spent 42 years in a shipyard working diligently, and they both just retired in the last five years.
INSKEEP: How did you not end up in the shipyard?
TAIT: I was determined not to end up in the shipyard. My father and mother let me work there for one summer, and that was enough to keep me in school, keep my grades up and to graduate.
INSKEEP: He became a pastor and has spent 13 years in Cincinnati. His neighborhood is improving. It's home to hospitals and some renovated homes, but it also remains home to many transient families living in poverty. It's a high-crime zone, which is on Ennis Tait's mind as he follows the presidential election.
TAIT: Nobody's really mentioned the lower class because at this point most people feel the lower class don't bring anything to the table.
INSKEEP: Is that true?
TAIT: No, it's not true. There wouldn't be an upper and middle class if there were no lower class. There would not be an America.
INSKEEP: Donald Trump has talked about troubled neighborhoods and could conceivably have had a neighborhood like this in mind when he said things like, what do you have to lose? Democratic policies have done nothing for you. It's time to try something different. What do you think about when you hear words like that?
TAIT: I don't - I'm not offended by it, but I do feel that that's a person that's out of touch with politics. And when you look at especially Obamacare, which is what they call it - I just call it health care - health care in America in the last eight years has shifted. And it's been a blessing for me and my family.
INSKEEP: What's the blessing been for your family?
TAIT: We've had insurance. So I have four children who've been able to have insurance, go to doctors, get routine checkups; myself and my wife likewise the same thing. And so - because there is an affordable plan for us.
INSKEEP: And was it harder to get insurance before?
TAIT: Oh, yes. We couldn't afford it.
INSKEEP: You didn't have - you're pastor of this church...
TAIT: And did not have insurance for five years. I only thank God that I didn't get sick and my children didn't get sick.
INSKEEP: The fact is Obamacare is facing trouble. Insurance companies are backing out of health exchanges. The next president and Congress will face pressure to fix it even as Republicans seek to repeal it. But an answer to Trump's question - what do African-Americans have to lose - Tait says a lot. He supports Hillary Clinton.
TAIT: I go all the way back to when Bill Clinton was president. I remember when she initiated the health care plan, but I also remember the Welfare-to-Work program. I remember a lot of the things that they did during that administration.
INSKEEP: This is really interesting because in the '90s President Bill Clinton signed a welfare reform act that was criticized by many people.
INSKEEP: There were crime laws passed that put a lot more people in prison. Hillary Clinton used this phrase about superpredators, which she said she regrets. But you look back on those years and you see someone who's reaching out to African-Americans.
TAIT: I see opportunity, yes, sir. I see it from a different perspective because at that time there were more African-American women and mothers who were employed who got an opportunity to get jobs. That system worked.
INSKEEP: Studies of that Welfare-to-Work program were mixed. The studies did find more women at work but also more women in extreme poverty. Beyond any specific policy, Pastor Ennis Tait is thinking about the meaning of the 2016 election. He speaks of a dangerous spirit, a conflict between races. As we've traveled divided states, we've heard Trump supporters blaming President Obama for that conflict. Tait identifies a different culprit.
TAIT: I don't believe that Donald Trump has intentionally created a lot of tension, racial tension, but I believe that his statements have opened the door for a lot of people to come out of their hiding places.
INSKEEP: What do you think could happen here if Trump wins?
TAIT: I think it will cause a even greater civil unrest amongst races. His spirit represents a behavior that I don't believe he can control.
INSKEEP: What do you think will happen if Donald Trump loses?
TAIT: Either way it goes, there's going to be a civil unrest in our country.
INSKEEP: Pastor Ennis Tait, talking with us in the light from the stained glass, said Donald Trump could, quote, "begin to awaken a demon that is somewhere lurking, looking for a home." We are talking with very different voters in Ohio, one of the divided states. And on Monday, after the next presidential debate, we're going to bring them all back to these studios here in Cincinnati. The debate is Sunday night at 9 Eastern, and live coverage will air on many NPR news stations.
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