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Voters Drawn To Donald Trump In Florida Panhandle


President Obama declared a state of emergency for Florida today as Hurricane Matthew gets closer. We'll have an update about preparation there elsewhere in the program.

Right now we're going to explore Florida's role in the presidential election. Hillary Clinton has strong support in South Florida. Donald Trump's key base is in the northwest. NPR's Debbie Elliott spoke with voters in Pensacola about what draws them to Trump.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: At the TGD gun store, you can take a picture of your new purchase alongside a fathead image of Hillary Clinton, or you can buy a Hillary for prison T-shirt. I've come here to meet gun rights activist Clover Lawson.

CLOVER LAWSON: I do carry. I think that we all need to exercise our right.

ELLIOTT: This Pensacola gun shop is a draw in the region because it carries everything you need to build your own custom gun. Lawson has a company that makes and markets gun parts like this drop-in trigger.

C. LAWSON: Pull it. You have that. It has a crisp pull, you know, good reset.

ELLIOTT: Lawson is a former military wife who was reluctant to get involved in politics. Now she's campaigning locally for Donald Trump.

C. LAWSON: I actually re-registered from Independent to Republican to vote in the primary.

ELLIOTT: She says she's engaged like never before. She likes Trump's positions on law enforcement, national security and gun control. Lawson is not among the gun owners who believe the government is out to disarm people, but she says regulating gun ownership is a dangerous form of government control.

C. LAWSON: Any infringement on our rights is an infringement on the Constitution.

ELLIOTT: For Lawson, the stakes in this election are high.

C. LAWSON: Our culture...

ELLIOTT: She fears it's slipping away.

C. LAWSON: There's an American way of life that - there's a work ethic that's gone, and we need to have respect again for our police officers. We need have respect for our military. We're - I feel like we're almost at the verge of that time when, you know, like, when my father, you know, was in Vietnam coming back from the Vietnam War and people spat on them.

ELLIOTT: We meet her parents at their regular Wednesday lunch at Captain D's.

TED LAWSON: My name is Ted Lawson. I'm from Pensacola, Fla.

SIMONE LAWSON: I'm Simone, and I'm originally from Louisiana.

ELLIOTT: The Lawsons met when he was stationed in the Navy here. He's retired from the civil service, and she used to run a graphics design business.

S. LAWSON: When the campaigns first started, I wasn't for Donald Trump right off the bat. In fact I didn't really like him at first.

ELLIOTT: Neither identify as Republicans and say they voted for Democrats before. They are not too fond of either party.

S. LAWSON: It's a disaster.

T. LAWSON: I think the emotional side of how we feel was that we've had enough of politics as usual. I mean really, it's just over and over again. It's like a broken record almost. They promise us the moon, and they give us nothing. I mean all we do is get higher taxes and less security. We're tired of it.

ELLIOTT: Simone Lawson says Trump is a radical choice, but she's come around.

S. LAWSON: You know, his biggest problem is that he does a lot of talking without thinking (laughter). And when I first heard him, I really felt like I was clashing with him. But over the years, I've learned that when I meet somebody that I feel like I'm clashing with, it's because I see something about myself in them.

ELLIOTT: Ted Lawson says Trump has the potential to be either one of the best or one of the worst presidents the country has ever seen, and he's willing to make that gamble. GOP strategist Scott Miller is also betting on Trump.

SCOTT MILLER: I would probably honestly count myself among those who feel very betrayed by the party

ELLIOTT: Once active in state Republican leadership, Miller says the GOP has long taken for granted the conservative voters in this part of Florida but never delivered on promises of smaller government and less regulation. He says Trump's record firing people should serve him well taking on a bloated federal bureaucracy.

MILLER: George Bernard Shaw said that all progress is accomplished through unreasonable people, and Donald Trump is probably as unreasonable as they come.

ELLIOTT: Miller says putting Donald Trump in the White House could redefine the presidency. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Pensacola, Fla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.