US Elections 2016: Final countdown

For Trump supporters, the economy is key

A woman showing her support for Mr Trump before his campaign event in Springfield, Ohio, on Thursday.
A woman showing her support for Mr Trump before his campaign event in Springfield, Ohio, on Thursday.PHOTO: REUTERS
A truck parked at Cleveland's I-X Centre during Mr Donald Trump's rally last Saturday sums up the sentiments of many Republican supporters towards Mrs Hillary Clinton. Brecksville resident Gary Kasmer, who plans to vote for Mr Trump, in front of the
A truck parked at Cleveland's I-X Centre during Mr Donald Trump's rally last Saturday sums up the sentiments of many Republican supporters towards Mrs Hillary Clinton. ST PHOTO: PAUL ZACH
A truck parked at Cleveland's I-X Centre during Mr Donald Trump's rally last Saturday sums up the sentiments of many Republican supporters towards Mrs Hillary Clinton. Brecksville resident Gary Kasmer, who plans to vote for Mr Trump, in front of the
Brecksville resident Gary Kasmer, who plans to vote for Mr Trump, in front of the bridge over the Cuyahoga River which separates Brecksville, Trump Country, and Garfield Heights, which is Clinton Country.ST PHOTO: PAUL ZACH

Educated voters in upper-middle-class areas don't have to like the man to vote for him

Mr Gary Kasmer moved into his one-storey ranch on a sprawling piece of property under tall oak and maple trees in Brecksville 11 years after he graduated from Garfield Heights High School.

Even then you could have hung a Trump Country sign on this suburb, where today lawn signs touting the New York billionaire outnumber those for Mrs Hillary Clinton.

Growing up in the Democratic heartland of Garfield Heights, Mr Kasmer had seen his attorney father always support the party. But the 65-year-old retired electrical engineer prides himself on being an an independent and has voted for Republicans like former president Ronald Reagan. On Nov 8, he will cast his ballot for Mr Trump.

"I don't necessarily like the guy, but I do favour the Republican platform," he said, over a beer at the kind of place Mr Trump himself is associated with, a golf course, one in the heart of Brecksville.

"I do favour a smaller federal government. You've got to get the national debt under control - that is going to be the demise of this country. There will be a financial meltdown if we don't take care of that."

Mr Kasmer voted for Mr Barack Obama in 2008 but said he was so disappointed with his performance on the economy that he switched to Republican nominee Mitt Romney in 2012, underlining the importance of economic issues to educated voters like himself, who live in upper-middle-class suburbs like Brecksville.

IT'S NOT ABOUT THE PERSON

I don't necessarily like the guy, but I do favour the Republican platform.

MR GARY KASMER, an independent who will vote for Mr Trump.

The drive from Clinton Country to Trump Country is shockingly short, 15 minutes at most. So is the sudden change of scenery, especially across the historic Ohio & Erie Canal via the northern tip of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Two sprawling estates with horse stables and tennis courts mark the entrance to Brecksville, a sharp contrast to smaller homes on small tracts and the shabby strip malls of Garfield Heights.

Proverbially, Trump Country is on the other side of the tracks from Clinton Country. In actuality, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad literally does bisect them. The winding roads that twist past Mr Kasmer's home lead to stylish shops and restaurants in the postcard perfect 19th-century city centre of Brecksville.

Lesser-educated Americans left unemployed by the flight of manufacturing and mining jobs abroad form one segment of Mr Trump's base. But he also has an enthusiastic following in primarily white, wealthier suburbs like Brecksville, where many residents carved out successful lives with little help from the government, a fact that they wear with pride and that separates them from Democrats who they feel have turned the US into too much of a welfare state.

Brecksville runs on taxes paid by the many high-earning engineers, doctors and financial consultants who make it their home. Lubrizol, the Berkshire Hathaway global giant involved in speciality chemicals, has large, chic offices here, along with AT&T, the communications company, and other smaller firms in offices on the city's southern edge.

With little need of food stamps or welfare cheques, Republicans rule in cities like Brecksville and nearby Broadview Heights and Strongsville. Sign after sign supporting Republican candidates in local, state and national elections tell it all.

Former president George W. Bush paid a town hall-style visit to the Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School during his successful run for re-election in 2004.

Residents have also kept Mr Jerry N. Ruby, a Republican, as their mayor for eight terms - 32 years in all. Republican Senator John McCain had his main area office in the Brecksville Shopping Centre in his unsuccessful run in 2008.

But the comfort level with Mr Trump is lower. There is a clear indication of the dilemma that Mr Trump has posed for some Republicans - Mr McCain's former campaign office this year services Senator Rob Portman, who, like Republican Governor John Kasich, has said he will not vote for Mr Trump. There is not a "Make America Great Again" sign anywhere in sight.

But Mr Trump has his followers. About 2km away, where raccoons, deer and possums are more populous than people on the heavily wooded streets, there are two Trump signs in front of a house on Pine View Oval. There, 28-year-old Raymond Schmitt lives with his parents. While that alone would seem to make him the definition of a young Hillary Clinton supporter, the red "Make America Great Again" cap on his head reveals otherwise.

Single and working in the oil and gas industry for the Purple Land Management Company, which helps develop tracts for oil and shale drilling, he admits he has reservations about Mr Trump. "Is he the ideal candidate? I don't think so," he said.

Yet, there are facets of Mr Trump's campaign that he finds exciting. "Even if he's not this very well-rounded, stoic Mitt Romney-type that we're used to," he said, "he's getting out there, he's bringing in a bunch of new people, he's galvanising the Republican Party, making the big tent, bringing people in, getting people excited about voting, and his policies are ones that will be beneficial to the American people."

Mr Schmitt viewed the third presidential debate at a watch party at the campaign headquarters of Mr Donald Larson, 49, a Republican running for a seat in the US House of Representatives in a neighbouring district. His opponent is Ms Marcia Kaptur, who at age 70 has held that seat for 33 years, and is exactly the kind of entrenched Washington politician that Mr Trump has railed against in his speeches.

Rather than harp on that, however, Mr Larson prefers to speak about the main problem that faces the kind of Americans usually portrayed as Trump supporters.

"If you get out of deeply white-collar, professional areas and travel the ninth congressional district where I'm out campaigning," he said, "and you look at the strip malls that are closing, the steel mill in Lorain County that was bustling until the middle of this spring, all the ports that haven't been dredged, the ships that are leaving - that changes people's behaviour."

It's all about the economy, he said. "And that's where Donald Trump is speaking the language of growth that we're not really hearing out of Secretary Clinton."

Mr Larson, who has a master's in nuclear engineering as well as a master's in business administration, says Mrs Clinton's deficiencies far outweigh Mr Trump's.

Indeed, a mutual disdain, even hatred, for her is common no matter where you travel in Trump country, and a major reason they are voting for her opponent.

Mr Kasmer, the engineer who voted for Mr Obama eight years ago, summed it up. "I'm as anti-Hillary as you'll find. And the reason is that she has shown over the years almost a complete lack of integrity and ethics," he said.

"She has proven herself to be a perpetual liar. And if you look at her more recent history - Benghazi, the e-mail scandal, the Clinton Foundation - she's always covering something up, and she's lying to do it."

Four Americans died at the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012 when Mrs Clinton was Secretary of State, while missing e-mails about that incident and others, and questions about her and her husband's multimillion dollar charity have been a constant thorn in her campaign's side.

As an engineer who worked in the information systems world, Mr Kasmer said that Mrs Clinton's mishandling of e-mails is particularly troubling.

"If I did that in the corporation that I worked at, where I would compromise security and not follow the document procedures for securing e-mail, I'd be fired immediately," he said. "There'd be no questions asked. You're out the door."

If anything will turn the entire US into Trump Country on election day, it is voters like Mr Kasmer.

WATCH IT ONLINE

What Ohioans are saying about the nominees. http://str.sg/4YdE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2016, with the headline 'For Trump supporters, the economy is key'. Print Edition | Subscribe