PHILADELPHIA ― Pennsylvania is a must-win state for Hillary Clinton in November.
But Donald Trump appears to be making inroads in at least some white, working-class corners of the solidly Democratic city.
HuffPost spoke to more than a dozen people on the city streets near the Snyder subway stop in South Philadelphia. The median household in the larger area where the neighborhood is located was $35,988 in 2011, according to Pew Charitable Trusts, slightly higher than the citywide median of $34,207. The zip code is one of only eight of the city’s 46 zip codes without a majority ethnic group, but non-Hispanic whites make up a plurality at 44 percent of residents.
Although some of the Philadelphians who planned to vote for Trump described themselves as lifelong Republicans, many others had voted for Obama at least once.
Nearly all of the black voters HuffPost spoke to said they planned to vote for Hillary Clinton. (African-Americans make up 36 percent of residents in the zip code.)
“Everything has an up and down side,” said Curtis Warrell, a dental marketing worker and one such voter. “But for the most part it feels like she is for the people.”
The black Philadelphians’ support for Clinton is consistent with statewide levels of support for Obama in 2012. Ninety-three percent of African-American voters in Pennsylvania voted to re-elect him, according to a CNN exit poll.
But opinions among white voters varied considerably. Here’s what a few of them had to say.
“Seen Him On TV”
Karen Knoll lives on Veterans Affairs pension benefits she is entitled to receive as the widow of a Vietnam War veteran.
Knoll voted for Obama in 2012, but said she was disappointed.
Now she is leaning toward voting for Trump.
“I don’t see nothing in really both of them that much,” she said of Clinton and Trump in a conversation near the intersection of Jackson and Broad Streets. “But more it seems like Trump might be the better of the two I think.”
“When I first seen him on TV, I said that guy’s gonna win and I didn’t even know who he was really,” she added.
Knoll said she does not support Trump’s plan to build a wall on the border with Mexico. But she was under the impression that former President Bill Clinton had cut veterans’ benefits and fears Hillary Clinton would do so as well.
Knoll expressed support for a higher minimum wage, universal health care and lifting the fortunes of less fortunate people.
“I think that the working people should get more help in this country than the people that are like upper-middle class that seem to get all the benefits and the working people seem to get none,” she said.
“We Are Getting Left Behind Because Of Immigrants”
Mary Ridico, a retiree, who voted Democrat for many years, said it was initially a “toss up between Hillary and [Donald Trump],” but she has since settled on Trump.
“He seems to have a head on his shoulders. He does know what he is talking about,” she said. “And he can make it better. I think he can.”
Ridico said she was angry about what she perceives as undue resources and opportunities going toward immigrants.
“Americans here, we’re going down,” she said. “We are getting left behind because of immigrants.”
Ridico also supports a $15 minimum wage, universal health care and higher Social Security benefits, even as she acknowledged Trump “might be against” those ideas.
“But he can make it better,” she said. “Hearin’ what he has to say at all ― he’s real.”
A Union Man And Obama Voter Concerned About Trade Deals
A middle-aged man who works as a technician for the state of Pennsylvania, spoke on condition of anonymity because his job forbids him from publicly expressing political views.
The technician, who is a member of a labor union, voted for Obama twice and now plans to vote for Trump.
“It’s the change that we need for a long time instead of politics as usual,” he said. “He seems down to earth – an average type of guy.”
Returning manufacturing jobs to the United States was a priority for the technician. He believes the offshoring of industrial jobs is a key reason Americans have trouble finding decent paying jobs.
“I see stuff made in Mexico – little tiny things we utilize for work, repairing things – and there’s nothing made here anymore,” he said. “The trade deals are awful, absolutely horrible.”
While the technician was talking about how trade had affected jobs, a woman passing by who overheard him yelled out, “Bring the jobs back!”
It’s the change that we need for a long time instead of politics as usual. Technician for the state of Pennsylvania
Trump has courted union members, claiming he has a warm relationship with them. In fact, he has gone to war with workers trying to unionize at a Las Vegas hotel he owns.
The Republican Party platform encourages states to pass right-to-work laws precluding unions from mandating dues payments from workers covered by their collective bargaining agreements. It even hints that it supports passing such a law nationwide, which would severely weaken labor unions.
The union technician was not worried, however, that a Trump presidency would endanger his union rights or collectively bargained benefits.
“I just have that feeling about that,” he said.
The Biden And Bernie Fan Not Yet On Board With Clinton
Even some Democrats who said they do not plan to vote for Trump were ambivalent about turning out for Clinton on Election Day.
Bob Taylor, who owns a men’s clothing store in the neighborhood, took a break from playing Pokemon Go on a Snyder Avenue stoop to talk politics.
Taylor, a lifelong Democrat, voted for Obama twice and said Vice President Joe Biden was his favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination. When Biden didn’t get in the race, he backed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
But Taylor said he cannot relate to Clinton and is still resistant to the idea of casting his ballot for her.
Obama is “a good speaker, he knows how to reach out and touch somebody,” Taylor said. “There’s no emotion in Hillary.”
He is not worried by the prospect that withholding support for Clinton will elect Trump, because he believes Trump is so stupid, he would inevitably be a one-term president.
“I’m just waitin’ for him to drop the n-bomb,” Taylor said.
“I Don’t Really Trust Her Too Much”
Lauren Hockett, a mother of three and retail worker earning minimum wage, also has deep misgivings about Clinton, even as she spoke approvingly of Obama, for whom she voted twice.
“A year from now, she’ll sway and change to popular demand or popular opinion,” Hockett said of Clinton. “So I don’t really trust her too much. I don’t think she’ll ever firmly stand for anything and run with it and stay with it.”
Yet Hockett said she planned to vote for Clinton despite her misgivings, because she worries that Trump “is a loose cannon.”
“I feel like he’s going to get us into a world war or something,” she said with a chuckle.
But Hockett shared some of the Trump voters’ concerns about immigration.
“I have no problem with people that come here and go through the proper channels,” Hockett said. “I have a massive problem with illegal immigration and people who are here gaining benefits ... and not following the rules and doing better than people who are citizens and work here and are on the street.”
The Frank Rizzo Republicans
James Wolfinger, an historian at DePaul University in Chicago and author of Philadelphia Divided: Race and Politics in the City of Brotherly Love, called the area canvassed by HuffPost “Frank Rizzo territory,” after the city’s larger-than-life Democratic mayor in the 1970s.
Rizzo represented a kind of white, culturally conservative brand of Democratic voter that is still common in Philadelphia, but may no longer vote for Democrats at the national level.
“There is probably a lot of social conservatism going on in terms of patriotism, but also nationalism and xenophobia about people taking jobs,” Wolfinger said. Wolfinger speculated that could explain why Trump’s candidacy has gained some traction there.
In fact, many residents of the neighborhood have long since stopped voting for Democratic presidential candidates. Some of the streets we walked on were in Ward 26, where Obama won just 52 percent of the vote in 2012 ― his lowest margin in any of the city’s 66 wards.
Bob Danzi, a retiree and Trump voter, said he used to be a Democrat, but could not remember the last time he voted for a Democratic presidential candidate.
He supports raising the minimum wage and expanding Social Security, both Democratic positions, but he believes Trump “means well and [will] make a good president.”
“He’s forward and tells it like it is,” Danzi added.
“Send All Those Muslims Back”
The older men getting haircuts at Foglia’s barber shop, an all-male establishment run by Italian immigrant Joe Foglia, were all Republicans, including Foglia himself.
Joseph Palucci, a retired construction worker getting his hair cut, said he liked Trump’s demeanor and his plans to “send all those Muslims back.”
“I like Donald, man,” Palucci said. “I like the way he carries himself.”
“If I would have did what Hillary did I would have gone to jail,” he added, referring to Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state. “But I guess she got away with it.”
Like many of the other Trump voters, Palucci adhered to several traditionally Democratic positions, such as support for raising the minimum wage.
“$7.25?” he said remarking on the current minimum in Pennsylvania. “You can’t make it on that.”
I am only here since 1960 and I see the country has gone down every term. Joe Foglia, barber
Foglia explained that he plans to vote Trump, because he hopes the real estate mogul will run the country “like a business.”
“I am only here since 1960 and I see the country has gone down every term,” Foglia said. “Why? Because we have politics all the time. We need somebody who is not in politics.”
Foglia echoed classic conservative criticism of government as providing handouts at the expense of hardworking taxpayers like himself.
“How much more taxes we can pay?” Foglia said. “They promise so many things for free.”
Another patron — a young man in United States Marine Corps apparel who was waiting for his haircut — refused to discuss his political views with HuffPost.
“You ain’t gonna like what I say, believe me buddy,” he said. “Yous are too liberal for me.”
The Republican Who Won’t Back Trump, But Likes Philadelphia’s Democratic Mayor
Gene McGovern, a retired firefighter and union member, expressed admiration for Ronald Reagan and faith in the conservative ideals of small government.
While he has no intention of voting for Clinton, he does not like Trump either. He may sit out the election entirely.
Trump is “immature,” McGovern said. “I don’t need a president calling people names. I do not like that one bit.”
Notwithstanding his distaste for Democrats at the national level, McGovern had kind things to say about Philadelphia’s progressive Democratic mayor Jim Kenney, affirming that in the final analysis, all politics is local.
“Jimmy Kenney’s a neighborhood kid,” McGovern said. “I worked with his father,” he added. “Why wouldn’t I like him?”