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Northeast Ohio Couple, Who Normally Vote Democratic, Consider Trump


And I'm Steve Inskeep at our member station WVXU in Cincinnati in Ohio, one of the divided states. We're meeting voters before and after each presidential debate, including Marty and Karen Surella, who live outside Cleveland. They met with our colleague M.L. Schultze of member station WKSU.

ML SCHULTZE, BYLINE: All his life, one thing has been for certain - Marty Surella has been a Democrat.

MARTY SURELLA: My father was a Democrat. My mother was a Democrat. I mean, it's just, you know, the way you came up. And then you get in the union. The union's like, hey, you vote for the Democrat, or you won't be working.

SCHULTZE: The argument made sense to a kid fresh out of Catholic high school diving into a five-year commercial plumbing apprenticeship.

To a new husband, to a couple buying their first house and raising their two kids, it made sense clear up through the time the now-70-year-old Surella, who's only up-close brush with politics is a brother-in-law who's a small-town mayor, voted for Hillary Clinton in Ohio's March primary.

Now he's strongly considering voting for Donald Trump. Surella isn't the angry-voter demographic getting so much attention this year.

SURELLA: I've had a good life. I have a good wife and good family. And I've been very, very fortunate.

SCHULTZE: He likes guns but quit his membership in the NRA after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. He's a lifelong Catholic but has no issue with gay marriage. He voted for Barack Obama twice and thinks Congress should've acted on his Supreme Court nominee.

But Surella says something about the country's path just seems off. And something about Donald Trump just seems like he might have the answer.

SURELLA: He's an outsider. And, you know, he's a loose cannon sometimes. But, you know, he seems to bring things to the table that I'm interested in.

SCHULTZE: Surella and his wife Karen moved here to Brook Park from nearby Cleveland in 1968. The inner-ring suburb exists because Ford built an engine plant here in the '50s. It sprawls over property the size of 28 football fields.

Along with two other plants, Ford once employed 15,000 people here. And then there were the tradesmen like Surella, plumbers, carpenters and others who didn't work directly for Ford but owed it their living. Now he looks out at an expanse of asphalt.

SURELLA: That's the power house out there that you see. But this gigantic piece of property was all the Ford foundry. And that's Engine Plant 2. That's dark.

SCHULTZE: You can't look at that, he says, without concern for American workers.

SURELLA: Jobs being shipped out of the country - I think NAFTA's been a disaster. I don't know how we compete with Mexico. They don't make anywhere near the money we make. How do they make steel over in China, ship it all the way across the world cheaper than we can do it in downtown Cleveland?

SCHULTZE: Still, Surella's town doesn't quite fit the narrative of dying American manufacturing. Ford has invested nearly half a billion dollars to build its EcoBoost engines here. Fifteen hundred people still work in the plant, making Ford the second-biggest employer in town. NASA is first.

Surella knows the Ford plant will likely never employ thousands again. The loss of those taxes, coupled with state budget cuts, have sliced deeply into municipal services. That plays into Donald Trump's drumbeat about economic uncertainty. Karen Surella says, so do other issues.

KAREN SURELLA: Immigration was the main thing. You know, we think something needs to be done about that. And he seems to be bringing that forward - not necessarily everything that I like about it. But at least it's out there.

SCHULTZE: Then there's crime. The Surellas had just spent five hours in a traffic tie-up on Interstate 71 because of an apparently random shooting at a rest stop.

SURELLA: I think he's a law-and-order candidate. You know, if we don't get some law and order here and start straightening this out, this is going to be chaos. It's only going to be worse.

SCHULTZE: And then there are the hopes the Surellas had when they voted for Obama - that those elections would somehow resolve wars overseas and simmering tensions in America.

SURELLA: I'm disillusioned with him over the race relations. I mean, I thought under his watch - that things would become better because he's a minority himself. And I didn't - I don't see that happening.

SCHULTZE: Marty Surella says Hillary Clinton has been part of a system that had decades to come up with solutions.


DONALD TRUMP: Our unemployment rate is skyrocketing.

SCHULTZE: On Labor Day, Surella was one of the dozen people recruited by Brook Park's Democratic mayor to meet with the GOP nominee. It was a rebuttal of sorts to Labor's turnout for Hillary Clinton a few miles east in Cleveland. Surella knows he was part of the show biz of politics that day. But he came away pleased.

SURELLA: I must say I was duly impressed. He was a nice guy. He didn't come off as a wiseacre.

SCHULTZE: Is all of that enough for a lifelong, blue-collar Democrat and his wife to vote for Donald Trump? Marty and Karen Surella say that will depend largely on what they hear in the next two debates. For NPR News, I'm M.L. Schultze. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

M.L. Schultze came to WKSU as news director in July 2007 after 25 years at The Repository in Canton, where she was managing editor for nearly a decade. She’s now the digital editor and an award-winning reporter and analyst who has appeared on NPR, Here and Now and the TakeAway, as well as being a regular panelist on Ideas, the WVIZ public television's reporter roundtable.

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