01/10/2020

Bill Staviscak voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 but now says he can’t rule out voting for President Trump this year, despite describing the president as a liar and a bad role model.

UNIONTOWN, Pa. — Bill Staviscak voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 but now says he can’t rule out voting for President Trump this year, despite describing the president as a liar and a bad role model.
It is the Democrats’ impeachment of Mr. Trump that has helped keep him on the fence.
“Overturning an election is wrong,” said Mr. Staviscak, 55, an independent voter who frequently votes for Democrats. “I believe he did something wrong, but I believe elections have consequences. Who people vote for, you have to live with it.”
Mr. Staviscak works as a cook at the Titlow Tavern, a popular bar and grill in this hardscrabble town about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh in a region crucial to Mr. Trump’s reelection bid.
His willingness to consider voting for Mr. Trump bucks conventional wisdom in Washington that the president has failed to expand his base and faces long odds for a repeat of the Rust Belt miracle that delivered him to the White House in 2016 by putting Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan in the Republican column for the first time in a generation.
“I could be a Trump voter,” said Mr. Staviscak. “I don’t like him, but I don’t like anyone.”
He said he was fond of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, a top contender for the Democratic presidential nomination whose childhood ties to Pennsylvania are believed to give him traction in the state. But Mr. Staviscak said Mr. Biden, 77, is too old for the presidency.
Mr. Trump is 73.
Mr. Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 by 2.9 million votes, according to the Federal Election Commission’s final tally, but his victories in three Rust Belt states that went Democratic in recent elections — Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan — put him over the top for a 304-227 win in the Electoral College, though he won those states by fewer than 45,000 votes, 23,000 votes and 11,000 votes, respectively.
In Pennsylvania, the linchpin of his Rust Belt strategy, part of the reason Mr. Trump prevailed was that he massively outperformed 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in conservative strongholds such as Fayette County, where Uniontown is the county seat.
In Fayette County, Mr. Trump garnered 34,590 votes, or 64%, in 2016 compared with Mr. Romney’s 26,000 votes, or 53%, in 2012.
To carry Pennsylvania and other Rust Belt states again, Mr. Trump likely needs to pick up more voters to make up for the erosion of support that is typical for a president’s fourth year in office.
Christopher P. Borick, director of the Institute of Public Opinion at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, was not surprised by what he called a “sliver of Clinton voters” willing to vote for Mr. Trump this year.
“While they are not enamored with Trump, they haven’t written him off as a possibility in 2020 and will wait and see what option the Democrats will put forth,” he said. “In essence, for this group of voters, Trump hasn’t been as bad as they thought he would be back in 2016, and the thought of tossing him a vote in 2020 is not out of the question.”
The president is a long way from another victory in the Keystone State. The deciding factor could be whether enough Clinton converts or pro-Trump holdouts turn out in November to offset the increasing Trump opposition in the eastern part of the state, Mr. Borick said.
“In places like southeastern Pennsylvania, there is a cohort of individuals that didn’t turn out in 2016 who think Trump is worse than they imagined and might therefore engage this time around,” he said. “Given how close the results in Pennsylvania were in 2016 and how the vast majority of voters in the state haven’t deviated from where they ended up that year, these two groups may be pivotal come November.”
Indeed, the political battle lines in America have barely budged. The next presidential election likely will be won or lost on the fringes where voters such as Mr. Staviscak reside.
Democratic strategist Christy Setzer said the number of Clinton voters open to voting for Mr. Trump in November is more or less a rounding error.
“But I can absolutely see his vote total increasing in 2020 — both from people who didn’t vote last time and from those who voted third party,” she said.
Trump campaign officials are confident that the president’s record of accomplishments — a strong economy, trade deals and an America first stance abroad — has an appeal far beyond his 2016 base.
“He has stood for the forgotten Americans who politicians have left behind for decades, and he has delivered on his promises. We see growing support represented at the president’s rallies, where a significant percentage of registrants and attendees are minorities, low-propensity voters and even registered Democrats,” said Trump campaign deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews.
Fayette County, one of the poorest counties in Pennsylvania, has not fared as well economically as other places since Mr. Trump took office. The area continues to suffer from the demise of the coal and steel industries with an aging and dwindling population.
The unemployment rate in the county was 5.9% in December, above the 3.5% national average.
“The economy is good but not so much in this area,” said Richard Ringer, a Democratic political consultant in Uniontown.
Still, he said, the political divide in the county hasn’t shifted since 2016 and Mr. Trump continues to garner strong support, which he attributed to people buying what he called Mr. Trump’s false offering of hope that steel mill jobs will return.
Mr. Ringer isn’t convinced that Mr. Trump will carry the county and the state in November but said the president has a “good chance.”
“I’m really dumbfounded by all of this,” he said. “It’s scary as hell.”
Dave Boyer in Washington contributed to this report.
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