Residents of Vigo County, Indiana, have a kind of talent. Except for two notable exceptions, in 1908 and 1952, all presidential candidates chosen by the region since 1888 ended up arriving at the White House.
Because of this record, the mood among voters in Vigo County can serve as a sort of preview for the result of the US presidential election on November 3.
For Susan and Terry Hayhurst, owning a 688-hectare farm did not stop them from traveling the world. They were in Europe for work and also for holidays. Her daughter Hayley, 25, is studying fashion in London.
And when it comes to politics, for them, Donald Trump is the only viable option.
Terry grows corn and soybeans in southwestern county and keeps two dozen hereford cattle. The state of Indiana is one of the country’s leading soy exporters – about half of the production is sold to China.
The Trump administration’s trade war with China sparked a response from Beijing, which imposed a 33% tariff on a U.S. soybean variety in 2018. But Hayhurst, a graduate of Purdue University, believes that American agriculture came out stronger from this trade war – the dispute eventually weakened and the tariff was withdrawn.
He thinks President Trump did an extremely good job on the episode.
“The United States has long been condescending to these other countries. But I think we are much better now with our relationship with China.”
“[Trump] it looks very rough and coarse and I think we would all like there to be a little more politeness. But at the same time, maybe that’s what we need now. “
Susan Hayhurst feels that the rest of the United States sometimes forgets about the essential role that the so-called “overflown country” plays – the parts of the country that many Americans only see when they are flying from above.
“We are not rednecks; we are not people walking in overalls,” she says. “Agriculture is big business.”
Situated on the banks of the Wabash River, Vigo County has a fairly balanced division of rural and urban residents. The more conservative population is offset by several colleges and universities spread across the region, including Indiana State University, which tend to be more liberal.
The county has some unusual electoral dynamics. Although Trump easily won the 2016 Republican primaries here, there was no clear winner on the Democratic side, where the vote was split between candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
Furthermore, the line that divides the Republican from the Democrat here is often blurred – it is not uncommon for local politicians to switch parties, without much reaction from the electorate. That’s because voters tend to choose individuals over parties. But the results of the local elections in 2016 and 2018 suggest that people are changing sides less often now.
A fifteen-minute drive north of the Hayhursts’ farm is Terre Haute, a city with a population of around 60,000 people. It is also the site of a large federal prison, home to convicted hijackers, MS-13 gang members and white supremacists like Dylann Roof, who killed nine people praying in a South Carolina church in 2015.
As elsewhere in the U.S., Terre Haute’s cafes and restaurants have set up outdoor tables in an attempt to boost their business in this disastrous pandemic year.
It is here, on a wooden bench on a block from Wabash Avenue, that Pat Goodwin, a Democrat running for one of the county’s top jobs – that of commissioner (each Indiana county has three commissioners, who together govern the region ) – tries to explain the local electoral dynamics.
He says the city is not at the “forefront of change” and its almost uniform division of urban and rural residents reflects the country’s political climate well. “Maybe it’s part of the reason why we are a thermometer.”
Issues such as the proposal for a new prison and a bribery scandal on a public school network are likely to be major issues in local elections next month. But in the presidential poll, Goodwin, who worked as an engineer for the city for eight years, believes there was a departure from Trump.
“No one foresaw the change we’ve seen in the past seven, eight months due to the president’s absolute failure to respond to the pandemic,” he said. “A lot of people may not want to hear that; we have a lot of supporters of President Trump. But the numbers don’t lie. He did a terrible job.”
Goodman says there is growing enthusiasm for Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden, which did not exist when Hillary Clinton ran in 2016. After Barack Obama’s two victories here in 2008 and 2012, Donald Trump defeated Clinton by a wide margin of 15 points percentage – or 6,002 votes.
“It will be extremely tight,” said Goodwin. “It will be close.”
The outcome can be decided by voters like 23-year-old Kyla Brown, who graduated in biology at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in May. Despite the contrasting styles and messages coming from the Trump and Biden campaigns, she has yet to decide who to vote for next month.
“It is a very difficult decision because both of our choices are not ideal,” she says. “It is incredible that we are where we are and have these candidates that we have.” She is concerned about Biden’s old age, but says Trump’s comments are disheartening. “He is very rude and degrading to many people,” she says.
Like many communities in the Midwest, Vigo County’s recent socioeconomic past has been marked by industrial decline. Columbia Records had a record pressing factory and a distribution center here until 1982, which employed 6,200 people at its peak. While the 2009 recession choked companies across the country, Columbia Records’ successor company BMG Columbia House closed in Terre Haute with the loss of the last 147 jobs that remained.
The Trump administration has been criticized in some sectors for canceling financial stimulus talks with Democrats last week, which could have helped small-business owners with no money to recover from restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.
He campaigned as the candidate for law and order while calling Black Lives Matters protesters “a symbol of hatred” and claimed – falsely – that Joe Biden would stop funding the police.
In recent months, the city has faced an outbreak of robberies. One of the victims is Café Delish on the north side of Terre Haute – a new cash register that cost more than $ 1,000 ($ 5,000) was stolen in a robbery in September.
But when it comes to choosing politicians, authenticity, rather than law and order, is the priority for owner Senka Delich. “Trump is not a politician; he is not educated. He is real,” she says. “He says things that you say yourself, or that I say when I’m angry.”
Delich says she arrived in the United States 27 years ago from the former Yugoslavia after her husband was killed in the Bosnian war. When she arrived, she had to take clothes out of the trash to dress herself and her daughters.
More importantly, she says, “Trump loves his country”.
The love of the country and the president’s business acumen are qualities that Delich shares.
“I arrived here with nothing; I didn’t speak English. I now have two restaurants and a coffee shop. I work 16 to 17 hours a day; I love it,” she says. “If you want to work, you can live [o sonho americano].”
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