US Elections 2016: Final countdown

Hopes, votes on Clinton for a better life

Above: A volunteer working at the Clinton field office in Garfield Heights. Below: Clinton supporters, many from the working class, turning up in force at a recent rally in downtown Cleveland.
Clinton supporters, many from the working class, turning up in force at a recent rally in downtown Cleveland.ST PHOTOS: PAUL ZACH
Above: A volunteer working at the Clinton field office in Garfield Heights. Below: Clinton supporters, many from the working class, turning up in force at a recent rally in downtown Cleveland.
Above: A volunteer working at the Clinton field office in Garfield Heights.ST PHOTOS: PAUL ZACH
Above: A volunteer working at the Clinton field office in Garfield Heights. Below: Clinton supporters, many from the working class, turning up in force at a recent rally in downtown Cleveland.
MRS HELEN SCHROEDER HANEY, a 65-year-old grandmother.ST PHOTOS: PAUL ZACH

Lower-middle-class residents of Garfield Heights say Democrats have got their back

When Mrs Helen Schroeder Haney graduated from Garfield Heights High School in 1969, it was home to mainly the lower end of America's middle class.

Fathers took buses and lunch boxes to work in the steel mills and auto plants that once fuelled the growth of the Cleveland area and turned Cleveland into one of the top 10 cities in the United States. Many mothers carried heavy trays as waitresses in restaurants patronised by gangsters straight out of The Godfather movies.

The grandparents had emigrated from Poland, Italy, Ireland and other parts of Europe and voted Democrat as religiously as they went to their Catholic churches - it was standing room only at St Theresa's, St Monica's and St Peter and Paul's every Sunday.

On Nov 8, Mrs Haney, 65, now a grandmother herself, will vote Democrat, as she always does. The party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama and now, Mrs Hillary Clinton, has the back of the working class which lives in Garfield Heights and other eastern corners of the Cleveland area, she says.

"Democrats have supported equality for all Americans, and that's why I have been so pro-Democrat my entire voting life," she said. "None of the conservatives has shown a history of trying to better American lives."

Today, Garfield Heights has changed but its politics has not. Now half of its residents are African-Americans who migrated from crumbling, crime-ridden streets of an inner city Cleveland that is finally shaking off its decline into a "rust belt" relic.

 

Pursuing their own American dreams here are people like Ms Essie Atwater, Ms Jeanette Stewart and Mrs Wendy Reynolds, who appear to have left age 50 behind, but prefer not to reveal just how long ago. "Just say we are gorgeous people," said Mrs Reynolds.

ALL OUT FOR DEMOCRATS

Democrats have supported equality for all Americans, and that's why I have been so pro-Democrat my entire voting life.

MRS HELEN SCHROEDER HANEY, a 65-year-old grandmother. US Elections 2016: Final countdown

None of the women has any qualms about publicising her choice for president, however. All are making phone calls and ringing doorbells, without earning a cent for it, as volunteers for the local field office of Hillary for Ohio.

Plastered with Clinton-Kaine and Love Trumps Hate signs, the office literally sits on the edge of a cliff once covered with trees but is now barren and oozing the odours of a landfill, overlooking a sliver of the Cuyahoga County River Valley.

Nearby, the City View shopping centre which opened in 2006 sits abandoned, the victim of methane gas from the landfill on which it was built, which drove out major big box stores like Walmart.

Ironically, Garfield Heights is home to the world headquarters of Chart Industries, a global gas tank manufacturer. Otherwise, it has been known for Marymount Hospital, now part of the Cleveland Clinic medical chain that has gone global.

With only a small tax base from industry and residents who have modest incomes, homes and buildings have fallen into disrepair along potholed streets.

Youngsters can be seen packing the city's basketball courts for hours, dreaming of becoming hometown heroes like NBA superstar LeBron James, who grew up on the poor side of neighbouring Akron.

There is little faith that Republicans would change their fortunes, or help repair the decay in the heart of Clinton Country. Even when many residents became so-called Reagan Democrats in the 1980s, they found that the Republican President's "trickle-down economics" actually saw the economic gains gusher up to people who were already well-off. Black Americans credit the social policies of Democrats such as Mr Bill Clinton and Mr Obama for helping them move out of inner-city Cleveland to suburbs such as Garfield Heights.

Mr Trump has tried to make the point that Democrats have not improved black lives, but the supporters who turn out to hear him say that at his rallies are almost all white.

In fact, the latest RealClearPolitics poll average shows African-Americans overwhelmingly for Mrs Clinton, 82.8 per cent to just 7.1 per cent for Mr Trump. With election day little more than a week away, legions of volunteers at countless field offices like the one on the Garfield Heights landfill are making sure they get out to vote for her.

Just a dozen kilometres away, blankets of trees splashed with the Technicolors of autumn cover the slopes to the south-west across the Cuyahoga River. Trump-Pence signs sprout on lawn-after-lawn on the drive down through the valley up to the larger homes of the suburb of Brecksville. In them and more prosperous but more sparsely populated suburbs and rural areas, the Republican Party has found a home.

Both Garfield Heights and Brecksville are in Cuyahoga County, which has given the Democrat's presidential candidate more than 60 per cent of its vote in the last five elections since Mrs Clinton's spouse won a second term in 1996, putting the Democratic Mr Clinton in Ohio's column both that year and in 1992.

The pattern - Democrats gorging on the votes of heavily populated urban areas of big cities and Republicans having to settle for the crumbs, typically the smaller numbers living in the suburbs and rural areas beyond - is characteristic of swing states in the US .

That is why polls and almost every legitimate pundit are predicting an easy win nationally for Mrs Clinton. Less-educated and economically disadvantaged white Americans form a large part of the Trump base as well. But number-crunchers calculate there are not enough of them to help turn the tide for Mr Trump.

That is also why analysts say some red states that the Republicans have long counted in their column, such as Georgia and Arizona, just might turn blue too this year. There, too, the populations of Clinton Country are growing.

Mrs Liz Jackson and her spouse Elle, both 26 and who live right on Garfield Heights' main street of Turney Road, are representative of a newer class of Clinton Country residents and voters. Not only are they women - an ABC News tracking poll this week showed Mrs Clinton with a 20-point advantage among women - but also they are members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

"Having Hillary is a big bonus... because she is so experienced and so dedicated in her work and her job," said Liz, an immigration paralegal.

And in Mrs Haney's case, she has never wavered even though other Caucasians of her age switched from voting Democrat to the Republicans as they grew older. She supports Mrs Clinton unequivocally.

"Hillary is extraordinarily qualified," she said. "She has shown her support for the American people and I use that term inclusively."

But she has deeper concerns, in particular the fear of resurgent racism that some associate with the Trump campaign. "The civil rights Act of 1964 did not magically make racism go away," she said.

Mrs Haney knows that all too well. She and her African-American husband, DuWayne, 68, have been together since 1973. "What now though has happened is that Donald Trump, through his campaign, through his speech, through his rhetoric and his actions, is making it okay for people to act on their racism, to say what they want to say, to do what they want to do."

On Nov 8, observers expect people like her will turn all of the US into Clinton Country.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2016, with the headline 'Hopes, votes on Clinton for a better life'. Print Edition | Subscribe