Where Coal Was King, Pa. Voters Hope Trump Rejuvenates Their Economy Donald Trump swept many traditionally Democratic Rust Belt states. NPR's David Greene revisits Fayette County, Pa., where thousands of Democrats crossed the aisle to vote for the real estate mogul.
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Where Coal Was King, Pa. Voters Hope Trump Rejuvenates Their Economy

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Where Coal Was King, Pa. Voters Hope Trump Rejuvenates Their Economy

Where Coal Was King, Pa. Voters Hope Trump Rejuvenates Their Economy

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And now let's go to David Greene, who spent yesterday with some voters outside Pittsburgh in Uniontown, Pa.

CECIL ROBERTS: (Chanting) UMWA, UMWA...

DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: So it's Thursday afternoon in Uniontown. And that voice you're hearing right there is Cecil Roberts. He is the president of the United Mine Workers of America. They have a rally going on. You can just hear his voice echoing through the streets of this city, Uniontown, in Fayette County.

It's one of the poorest counties in the state - heavily supported Donald Trump. This is coal country. There's a coal-town saloon right over there. But a lot of the coal jobs have gone away. There are closed businesses here, as we walk up to the square, where there are a lot of mine workers who've gathered.

ROBERTS: Let's give our officers here a round of applause. They fight for you every single day.

GREENE: So the rally's ended. I'm sitting here in the square, as they wrap up, with Walter Plevin (ph). Mr. Plevin, thanks for taking a few minutes.

WALTER PLEVIN: No problem.

GREENE: Tell me about you. Are you involved with the mine workers?

PLEVIN: My whole family's been coal miners all their life. My dad, my uncles, grandpaps - and everything. And what we'd like to see - they do something with the coal again because so many people in this area - in our area around here - worked in the mine, you know?

And now there's a lot of mines closed. And there's a lot of fellows without jobs. And to find a new job, you start all over again. If you've had 20 years in the mine, it's hard to do.

GREENE: So Donald Trump promised to bring coal jobs back.

PLEVIN: So he says. You know, we'll see.

GREENE: Did you vote for him?

PLEVIN: Yes, I did.

GREENE: You're a Republican?

PLEVIN: I'm a Democrat.

GREENE: You're Democrat. Is that one reason you supported him - hoping to get the coal jobs back here?

PLEVIN: Correct. Yes, I did.

GREENE: How long will you give him to start bringing those jobs back?

PLEVIN: That I couldn't answer (laughter). How could anybody really answer that? You know, we got four years so far, right? So see what happens.

GREENE: All right, Mr. Plevin. Thank you.

PLEVIN: I'm going to move along.

GREENE: Really appreciate it.

PLEVIN: My back's killing me.

GREENE: Thanks for the time.

PLEVIN: All right, bud.

GREENE: Nice to meet you.

PLEVIN: You, too.

GREENE: So now the scene is kind of shifting here in this square from union event to the event that's taking place tonight, which is Home for the Holidays. And the person who's now going have to rush to set up the square is Tina Allen (ph). And I'm standing here with her. How much work is this going to be?

TINA ALLEN: Well, most of it's already done - the hard part. I just have a little bit of touch-ups to do. I have to wait for my vendors to get here.

GREENE: You're a busy woman.

ALLEN: I'm very busy. Today's a very busy day for me (laughter).

GREENE: And who did you vote for?

ALLEN: I voted for Donald Trump.

GREENE: And then tell me why.

ALLEN: Well, my husband is a coal miner. And if he's unemployed, where's he going to go? He's almost 60 years old. You know, where are you going to go find a job? You're not. So I'm hoping that at least the mine that is existing now will stay for a while.

GREENE: And Donald Trump said he's going to bring coal jobs back.

ALLEN: You know, I don't know. You know, I know his heart is there. It's a difficult job, I believe, to actually say, I'm going to open this mine or I'm going to do that. I can only hope that what is there now - maybe they'll hire more people. Maybe they'll get more places for our coal to go to. That's what I'm hoping for.

GREENE: What do you need to see him do - and how quickly - for you to stay on board?

ALLEN: My main thing is with Obamacare. I think insurance should be the No. 1 priority because I know my daughter - what they're paying for insurance now is ridiculous.

GREENE: And she's on Obamacare?

ALLEN: I'm not sure if it's Obamacare. But it's still with - you know, the insurance is just outrageous. Everyone I talked to that's on Obamacare - it has almost doubled. So something needs done.

GREENE: You want Trump to repeal the law like he says?

ALLEN: I hope so - or modify it.

GREENE: Or improve it?

ALLEN: You know - yeah, either or.

GREENE: Are you a Democrat? Republican?

ALLEN: I'm a Democrat. But I'm ready to change Republican. So, you know, I've gotten into fights with my mother over it because she's a strict Democrat. We didn't speak for days. I was told if my grandfather was living, he would disown me.

GREENE: You stopped speaking to your mother for...

ALLEN: Oh, yes. My mother stopped speaking to me over it. And I said, Mum, I've got to do what I have to do. And, actually, the following day, you know, she was OK with it.

GREENE: So tell me about tonight. What is this square going to look like in a few hours?

ALLEN: Well, tonight, it's going to be absolutely beautiful. We'll have - the mayor will turn the lights on. It should be wall to wall with people. And it'll be a lot of joy and happiness.

GREENE: Is there something even more special about tonight, given what this country's just been through?

ALLEN: It is. It is. I cannot wait to see everybody. My phone's been ringing off the hook. They can't wait to be here. They've thanked me. They cannot wait to be a community that's gathered for something very good.

GREENE: So it's a few hours later now. And this downtown and main street has just been transformed into small-town holiday fever. If this is a struggling community, I mean, it is a community with a lot of spirit. I mean, the cheerleaders are right over there getting ready for the parade. They're selling hot chocolate - and antique chair is set up for Santa Claus.

And there are people who come from different political persuasions because I'm standing with a Hillary Clinton supporter, Jim Davis, who we've actually had on the program before. You're the Democratic county chairman for Fayette County. How are you?

JIM DAVIS: I'm fine. I'm fine. It is a very festive occasion, isn't it?

GREENE: Oh, it's the perfect time of night.

DAVIS: It's beautiful.

GREENE: Jim, I mean, you were telling me back in the spring you saw a lot of Democrats switching their party registration for Donald Trump, saw Republicans turn out in bigger numbers in the primary. Do you feel like you saw the writing on the wall at that point in this election?

DAVIS: Yeah. Yeah, we did. We did. And maybe we didn't want to see it. We didn't want to accept it. But yes, we did. It was obvious.

GREENE: Do you blame Hillary Clinton for this?

DAVIS: I don't blame her. I blame - I think our system is one in which we tend to think that people have a right to run for a certain office. And that's not good. There shouldn't be a right. It should be - you earn it. And competition is better.

GREENE: You feel like there was just sort of an assumption she's the...

DAVIS: Yeah. I think a lot of good candidates assumed she would be the candidate, she would be the next president. And they stepped out.

GREENE: What should your party do right now broadly?

DAVIS: I think the first thing we have to do is reinvent what we stand for. We have to start appealing to working-class people that live here and work here and not worry about the social issues that seem to be what we keep talking about in the national media.

We need to talk about how we can develop infrastructure for jobs, how we can bring jobs here - jobs that are decent - not a job that pays $8 an hour and no benefits - but a job that can pay a reasonable wage with benefits - that a man can raise his family, can hopefully buy a house and send his children off to college - maybe state school - but college. That's the kind of thing we've got to start talking about.

GREENE: Jim Davis, attorney and Democratic county chairman for Fayette County, thanks a lot.

DAVIS: Thank you.

GREENE: And everyone in town seems to be gathering now in the square, where we began the day. The mayor's getting ready to light the Christmas tree.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Five, four, three, two, one.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Merry Christmas, everybody.

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