Mike Harbison has always been a guy who speaks his mind. His political values wave from flags outside his home in a small town south of Pittsburgh. And when the People’s Convoy made its way to Washington, D.C., his Harbison Trucking Inc. truck lined up right behind hundreds of others.
“I was with a lot of like-minded people,” said Harbison, 51. “I talk to some of them every day and what we’re gonna do to keep our country free.”
He is the face of what one Pennsylvania political scientist has called the “enthusiastic” voters, Republicans heavily invested in politics. They showed up in big numbers for the primary election this week, casting ballots for the highly contested gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races, and they’ll play hard in the fall election.
It raises the question: What does Tuesday’s turnout and vote mean for the next presidential race, in 2024? Well, political wonks say the mid-terms foreshadow nothing for the presidential election.
“Midterms are always bad for the president’s party, so in this case, that means the Democrats,” said Stephen Medvic, government professor at Franklin and Marshall College and director of its Center for Politics and Public Affairs. But playing out two years, much can shift and often does. Most midterm elections swing away from the president’s party but turn back to re-elect the president two years later.
“Two years is a lifetime in politics,” he said. “You never know what’s going to intervene. Something tragic, a war or something or a pandemic can really change the dynamics in 2024.”
But one thing that has remained consistent since 2020: The high energy among Donald Trump fans. It’s hard to ignore.
PA’s white, working class voters
In southwestern Pennsylvania, Trump signs still fly, along with “Let’s go Brandon" and derogatory messages about President Joe Biden. At a motorcycle dealership north of Pittsburgh, the Wi-Fi signal is called: “Trump is still our president.” Democrats once had a stronghold in this part of the state, but the collar counties around Pittsburgh voted for Trump.
“Trump’s base comes from the white, working class voters in our state and in many other places,” said Terry Madonna, senior fellow for political affairs at Millersville University.
They come from working-class areas such as the southwestern part of Pennsylvania where Mike Harbison lives. Even though Democratic voter registration edges out the Republicans, the residents of the collar counties around Allegheny chose Trump “mainly because they’re conservative on issues like abortion and gay rights, strong supporters of the Second Amendment, ‘Don’t touch my guns.’ And because many of their ancestors worked in the mines and mills - iron, coal, steel and now natural gas — they’re concerned about the Democratic Party’s position on the environment,” he said.
In 2016, that fervor was the ingredient that elevated Trump to a win, and it was so unusual that pollsters missed the signs, predicting wrongly that Hillary Clinton would win.
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“Election polls, as opposed to issue polling, have an extra hurdle to clear in their attempt to be accurate: They have to predict which respondents are actually going to cast a ballot and then measure the race only among this subset of ‘likely voters,’” according to Pew Research, which does polling, demographic and social science research. “Under this theory, it’s possible that the traditional ‘likely voter screens’ that pollsters use just didn’t work as a way to measure Trump voters’ enthusiasm to turn out for their candidate.”
There’s that word again: enthusiasm.
It lured every Pennsylvania Republican candidate for governor and Senate this year to align themselves with Trump in their campaign ads and speeches.
“It does seem like there’s a lot of energy within the Trump wing of the Republican Party, and the Trump wing is the majority of the Republican Party,” Medvic said.
The Trump wing
Mike Harbison lives in Venetia, Washington County, not far from where he grew up, raised primarily by the woman who would influence his politics: his grandmother.
“She told me, ‘Michael, research who you vote for, I don’t care what party they’re with,’” he said.
She and her husband were Democrats, but in the 1980s, their loyalty was tested as they started to see greed superseding their good judgment, Harbison said.
That was the decade he graduated from high school and registered to vote as a Republican. He started driving a tow truck and working as a mechanic in a car dealership, but he needed to be self-employed.
“I could never be employed by somebody. I’m too blunt. When something isn’t right, I’m not one of those people who falls in line because someone tells you to do something,” he said.
Here’s his straight talk on some of the issues:
Trump: “He’s a man of his word.”
The other party: “They call themselves Democrats, but they are not. I more or less see them as socialists. They have a lot of things that they push. Well, you have to do this, you’re not allowed to free think.”
The coronavirus: “I call it the great plandemic. I’ve yet to have a vaccine. I’ve been all over - Texas, Louisiana, the East Coast. I’ve had no vaccination, I’ve never been sick, and I’m still alive.”
Masks: “If I was a kid today and they told me I needed to wear a mask, I would have been kicked out a million times.”
Gun rights: In other countries where guns were taken from citizens "they have no way to defend themselves. Here, we can defend ourselves against our own government.”
The convoy: He wanted to see “the end of the Emergency Powers Act, which is still enacted, which does suspend constitutional rights. It allows government officials to ignore the Constitution.”
Corruption in government: “There are some (politicians) that are swayed by the money. They’re looking at what can end up in their pocketbook and not for what’s right for the people. How did the Obamas’ net worth go from under a million to he’s beyond a millionaire now? … Term limits should be instituted. We need to get back to our grassroots, where politicians were paid differently.”
Media: “CNN, MSNBC, a good portion of Fox News, any of the mainstream media is terrible. A lot of my information I get from different podcasts I listen to.”
The 2020 presidential election: “The election was rigged.”
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The other side of PA politics
The elections both this year and in 2024 will see a big divide between how college-educated voters select candidates and how non-college-educated voters make their choices, Madonna said.
There is still little known about how much the Roe v. Wade leak will sway or move voters in upcoming elections. In advance of the primary, Madonna thought it would have some influence, but in 2024, it might not.
There will be more partisanship in the fall election, straight-party voting, including women in the suburbs of Philadelphia.
“The suburbs are the Trump problem, the Republican problem,” Madonna said. “Biden won all the Philadelphia counties. That is a huge factor in all of this. You can’t really rule out the significance of that, to put it bluntly.”
The suburban Philly woman
The environment is what pulled Kelly DeJong into politics.
She was still young when her conservative-leaning mom and stepdad publicly vocalized their opposition to a pump that would divert some water from the Delaware River. The fight over that pump lasted years and failed to stop its construction. It’s now close to DeJong’s home in Bucks County.
In college, she registered to vote with the Green Party, but in recent years, she switched to the Democratic Party so she could vote in the primary.
“I wasn’t active in politics until 2016, when Trump got elected,” she said. Her oldest daughter, 6 years old during that election, saw some of Trump’s ads on television and didn’t like they way he talked about people. “We were raising her to be kind to people. She was so upset when he ended up winning,” DeJong said.
She’s now involved in local politics, especially school board elections, which have become contentious after the debate over masks escalated into arguments she found disconcerting, over the rights of LGBTQ students in school, she said.
She, too, lives close to where she grew up, a place that wasn’t nearly as diverse in her childhood as college at Carnegie Mellon University, where she graduated with a degree in architecture. She moved to Los Angeles after college but moved back to southeast Pennsylvania to settle down, marry and raise a family. DeJong and her husband, who is self-employed, have two daughters.
Here’s where she stands on some of the issues:
Trump: “I didn’t think he had a shot to win (in 2016). I thought he was running as a publicity stunt. I was surprised (he won). I remember being disappointed that my county, especially, had voted for Trump. … I think even just the name calling, outward bigotry that he displayed. I grew up with people saying that all the time, however that wasn’t on TV, and it wasn’t the president.”
The other party: “I’ve always existed with a lot of conservative people in my circle. They know where I stand.”
School fights over masks: “What is scary is that some of these people have gone after people’s jobs for opinions expressed in school board meetings.”
Masks: “A lot of people were upset when schools closed. I was upset, but I just accepted the reality and made do.”
On Biden: “I really liked Kamala Harris. I favored her from the beginning. I felt OK about Biden. I thought he did a lot of great work in the Obama Administration. (For the 2020 election), I was just hoping the whole Trump nightmare would be over.”
On Lt. Gov. John Fetterman: “I’ve actually been a fan of John Fetterman. In college, we actually studied Braddock. … So when he came in and started doing stuff there, I followed what was going on. I was really impressed that he chose to live there and raise a family there.” She’s impressed by his stance on “legalizing marijuana and women’s rights and immigration issues and just seeing how you can work with a community that has so many problems and turning things around for that community.”
Kim Strong can be reached at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on York Daily Record: What does the Pennsylvania primary mean for Donald Trump in 2024?