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Detroit Working Class Men Split On Donald Trump


Donald Trump is pinning his election hopes on a group of voters with long ties to the Democratic Party, but who've been known to abandon that loyalty and vote from - and vote Republican. We're talking working-class white men, especially union members, the Reagan Democrats of the 1980s. This week, NPR and several member stations are taking a look at battleground communities as part of our project A Nation Engaged. Today, NPR's Don Gonyea has this report from the Detroit suburbs in a state the Democrats expect to win. But with these voters, it's clear Hillary Clinton still has work to do.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: If you stop by Larry McCool's house in Garden City, you'll be greeted by a trio of giant Rottweiler dogs. Don't worry, they're friendly, he tells me.


LARRY MCCOOL: Come here. Come on, Coco.

Maxie's about 12. Azul, he's about 2. And they're both rescues.


MCCOOL: Come here, Az (ph). Az, come here. Good boy. Smile.

GONYEA: Coco, who looks like a small bear, seems to be angling to play fetch with my microphone in the backyard. McCool is 54, a union carpenter.

MCCOOL: My neighbor on one side, he's a UAW worker. The neighbor over here's a Teamster. You know, so it's basically auto industry and basically good union people.

GONYEA: When the financial crisis hit here, these small single-family homes took a big hit, he says, losing more than half their value just like that.

MCCOOL: Everybody was upside down. I mean, it was terrible 'cause to go to work and see somebody's stuff sitting on their front lawn - and I remember one of the first ones I've seen. And I stopped on the side of the road. And the wind was blowing stuff around, and I asked the woman if she needed help. You know, she was being evicted, and you could tell all hope was lost.

GONYEA: He says the area's coming back, but slowly. McCool is voting for Hillary Clinton after being a Bernie Sanders supporter in the primaries. He says Trump is all ego.

MCCOOL: You know, you're Caesar - you know, here comes Caesar and boom, boom, boom (ph). You know, he's got his whole family with him and we're going to do this. And, I mean, we're not the Roman Empire where we're going to walk in and take things.

GONYEA: McCool's support of Clinton puts him in line with his union and with the national AFL-CIO. But it's not hard to find dissenting opinions among the rank and file here.

JIM BELL: I'm - I - none of them. That's who I like. I don't like any of them. They're a joke.

GONYEA: Forty-four-year-old Jim Bell works in nearby Dearborn. He's a Ford employee represented by the United Auto Workers Union. Politically, he says he's an independent.

BELL: I'm undecided. However, I lean more towards Trump just because I think the change that Obama wanted to bring - I think Trump will.

GONYEA: Bell does like what the billionaire candidate says about trade, including that American factories will come roaring back, that auto jobs will return from Mexico. But Trump has also said UAW members make too much money. Bell doesn't like that, nor does he like that so many Trump-branded products, like Trump ties and shirts, are manufactured overseas.

BELL: Make America great again, but he's contradicting exactly his theme song for this campaign by buying everything over in China. You know, and it's - however, that is still better than shady Hillary.

GONYEA: Bell's coworker, Kevin Eisbrenner, has been a Trump backer from the beginning. Both he and Bell say they do wish Trump would tone down the insults, but they like that he's not politically correct. Eisbrenner also said this about Trump.

KEVIN EISBRENNER: I'm voting for the man, but do I think he's qualified as a politician? No. But what he's qualified at - he's a leader. And every good leader knows how to surround themselves with qualified people.

GONYEA: Now to a coffee shop in Novi in northwest suburban Detroit. Fifty-five-year-old Scott Klein is a long-haul truck driver and former Sanders supporter. He is also undecided now, but he does not like Trump, which sets him apart from most of the other drivers he talks to.

SCOTT KLEIN: They say there's two kinds of truck drivers. There are the ones that sit at the counter and there's the ones that sit at the table. I'm a counter guy.

GONYEA: So he sits there. And the guys on the stools next to him -

KLEIN: Trump. Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump.

GONYEA: All of them?

KLEIN: All of them. (Laughter) I don't understand it. But I do, in a way. What's happening out in Washington now isn't working today. The vehicle for blowing the system up is Mr. Trump.

GONYEA: Klein says he's interested in Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. He says it's all frustrating, though, because it shouldn't be that hard to get some basic things done in Washington. I asked what would make a difference in his life.

KLEIN: I would like a life where every week - that we make enough that the bills are paid and I can put some money away for retirement.

GONYEA: Are you doing that now?

KLEIN: No. No.

GONYEA: In Monroe County, south of Detroit, the Ford plant closed almost 10 years ago. Thirty-nine-year-old Chuck Brooks worked there. He was able to transfer to another Detroit-area factory, but says there are still worries about more jobs going to Mexico. He says he tells fellow workers that Trump with his tough talk on trade is not the answer.

CHUCK BROOKS: You've got to be careful what you wish for because it could backfire.

GONYEA: Bernie Sanders won the Michigan Democratic primary with Brooks' support. Now he's for Clinton. He says Trump has no credibility on jobs and trade. But he points to another potent topic Trump uses to lure union votes - guns.

BROOKS: They're taking your guns. You know, I won't take your guns. We all need guns. Go out and buy a gun. You know, go protect yourself. No one's coming to your house and taking your guns.

GONYEA: Michigan as a state has gone Democratic in the last six presidential elections. Historically, union members tend to vote in line with the recommendation of their union leadership. Donald Trump is hoping that changes this year. He at least has the ear of these voters in suburban Detroit. Don Gonyea, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.

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