MORGANTOWN, WV —
Less than a month before Election Day, Republican Donald Trump is scrambling to recover momentum after the release of a damaging video tape, a steep drop in the polls and an increasingly bitter feud with party leaders.
Despite his recent troubles, some of Trump’s most loyal supporters continue to stand with him, especially coal miners in West Virginia.
Coal miner Chris Rose has been an enthusiastic Trump supporter from the beginning. “He speaks his mind. He’s not afraid to say what is on his mind. He’s got gall,” Rose said at his home outside Morgantown recently.
But Rose and his wife, Amber, were clearly put off by the release of the “Access Hollywood” videotape that contains Trump’s vulgar language about women. Rose said he and his wife were “extremely disappointed and disgusted” with the tape, and he added that Trump will have to “try hard to convince” voters that he has “changed his view on women and marriage.”
Despite the tape, Rose said they are sticking by Trump. “I hope the American people will remember that this is just a flash in the pan compared to all the scandals the Clinton’s have been in throughout the years.” Rose added that he found Clinton “crooked, deceitful, lying.”
Rose is 26 and has been mining for eight years. The coal mining industry is crucial in West Virginia, and Rose decided long ago he wanted to be part of it. “I mean, people you grow up with, family members, everybody works in the coal mine. So it is a way of life, a brotherhood.”
Hard times for miners
But the coal mining industry has fallen on hard times in West Virginia in recent years. A group that monitors the coal industry called Workforce West Virginia reports that about 11,500 miners have lost their jobs since March of 2012. The miners blame government regulations and many of them are enthusiastically embracing Donald Trump for president.
Rose said Trump does need to make some changes, adding that “he does need to learn to make it (his campaign) a little more presidential.”
But Rose also argued that West Virginia miners have welcomed his support for the coal industry and are suspicious of what Clinton would do as president. He also said voters want change. “They are fed up with the Clintons. They are fed up with the Bushes. It’s time to run an outsider. Time to give someone else a chance.”
'He kind of disgusts me'
A few miles away, on the campus of West Virginia University in Morgantown, Trump is also the subject of discussion, but this time it’s by members of the Young Democrats club.
Sophomore Angel Mullen is, to put it mildly, not a fan. “Donald Trump, he kind of disgusts me. And I feel bad saying that, but as a woman and a minority, I don’t feel very comfortable with him. I don’t feel comfortable with him handling women’s rights.”
Mullen is supporting Democrat Hillary Clinton for president, and says even though Trump remains a heavy favorite to win West Virginia on election day, it is still important to get Democrats to turn out to vote. “And even if (the) state overall votes for Trump, it is still really important for those Hillary supporters to go out there, and for us to see those numbers and to see how many people actually really support her.”
Fellow Young Democrat Emma Harrison said she is inspired by Clinton whose candidacy gives her hope that women can aspire to high office. “Well for me, I really want to run for office some day, and to have her break the ultimate glass ceiling of (becoming) president, hopefully, that would just mean the world to me.”
Harrison added that, in her view, there is no comparison between Trump and Clinton. “I mean, she is the most qualified. And she is level-headed, she is strong-willed. I just think she is the perfect candidate for the job.”
Looking for a savior
Known as the ‘Mountain State’, West Virginia ranks as one of the poorest states in the country. Its aging and predominantly white population is looking to Trump as a savior, according to Patrick Hickey, an assistant professor of political science at West Virginia State University. “Trump’s message really resonates here because part of his message is that the global economy has left American workers behind, and I think nowhere is that felt more, or very few places is that felt more, than in West Virginia.”
West Virginia last voted for a Democrat in a presidential election 20 years ago, when voters supported Bill Clinton’s re-election bid in 1996. Since then, the state has taken a sharp turn toward the Republicans, in part because Democrats nationally are not seen as supportive of the coal industry. “We had a strong Democratic tradition, a strong union tradition, but as the mining jobs have gone away and some of those union jobs have gone away, we have seen the state increasingly turn Republican,” said Hickey.
Trump has been an outspoken supporter of the coal industry in West Virginia going back to the primaries earlier this year, and Hickey said he still retains a lot of support. “West Virginia really sets up well for Trump. We are an older state, we are a whiter state, and so some of these statements that Trump has made that are really concerning to folks elsewhere are maybe not as concerning to folks here.”
West Virginia looks to be Trump country come Election Day. Voters here seem ready to overlook his faults in the hope of bringing change to a state with an uncertain future. “We are not getting any younger here in terms of the state in general,” Hickey added.
“We are not getting any more diverse in terms of racial diversity here in the state, and so again, demographically, West Virginians are the folks being left behind by this more multi-cultural and globalized society.”