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In Battleground North Carolina, Trump Supporters Critique His Performance


In the past three presidential elections, Nash County in eastern North Carolina has gone back and forth and back again, whisker close each time. Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton there by just two-tenths of a percentage point. So this week, NPR's Don Gonyea paid the county a visit to see how fans of candidate Trump there are sizing up President Trump so far.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Something interesting happened when I talked to Trump voters in this battleground county in a battleground state. Ask how the president's doing so far, and the answer often begins with what they don't like. Again, these are all Trump voters. Eric Wyatt is an engineering student at the local community college.

ERIC WYATT: I support what he's doing thus far. I wish he wasn't such a blowhard.

GONYEA: Now to Pam Mullen, the owner of a construction company in the county's biggest city, Rocky Mount. First she praised Trump's business success but then segued unsolicited into this.

PAM MULLEN: He's just very brash sometimes, and he comes across as rude and maybe - well, I don't want to say ruthless but just a little bit offensive (laughter) to me personally.

GONYEA: Now to a tiny and struggling town with an optimistic name, Spring Hope. That's where I found Lavonne Summer, who owns a small shop where she sells brightly painted imported Mexican pottery.

LAVONNE SUMMER: I have people that come from Winston-Salem, Virginia, Greensboro, Sanford.

GONYEA: So how long you been in business?

SUMMER: Third year.

GONYEA: Then comes this blunt take on the new president.

SUMMER: Never have liked Trump only because of his New York arrogance (laughter). I mean I'm being honest. I mean it is such a turn-off.

GONYEA: But there's also praise.

SUMMER: I think he's doing alright. I mean he's doing what he said he would do. I mean and that's something that we don't normally see.

GONYEA: And one more stop - a classic stainless steel diner on Highway 64. Vietnam-era veteran and retired farmer Walter Lynn was waiting for his carry-out.

So what do you got?

WALTER LYNN: What do you got?

GONYEA: (Laughter).

LYNN: My wife wanted a ham biscuit.

GONYEA: Sweet tea.

LYNN: Yeah.

GONYEA: Of course.

LYNN: (Laughter).

GONYEA: Breakfast aside, there's a big topic on Lynn's mind - Russia.

LYNN: I just don't like the hobnobbing with the people that hate us like Russia. I mean, look; Putin - he was in the KGB. He's still got that mindset, and he wants the whole world to be communist. I mean that's the whole thing.

GONYEA: These are Trump voters but with a disclaimer ready. Still, should a pollster call and ask if they support Trump, the answer would be yes. Take Walter Lynn. He may critique Trump for playing nice with Russia, but he balances it off with this.

LYNN: The reason I love Trump so much - he reminds me of my own self because I'm upfront. I tell it like it is. All of my life - tell it just like it is. I don't beat around the bush. And if something's wrong, I address it.

GONYEA: Here's something else that keeps these voters in the president's corner - that they never could have voted for Hillary Clinton. And they really do love the way Trump goes after the media and fact-checkers monitoring every early morning tweet.

MULLEN: They take one little snippet of something and create a huge story out of it.

GONYEA: That's Pam Mullen again, the business owner in Rocky Mount.

MULLEN: I think that a lot of the publicity that he is getting is blown way out of proportion.

GONYEA: She says that includes early reports of discord and disarray within the White House and stories about complaints from conservatives about the proposed replacement for Obamacare. As for what she might say to Trump today if she had the chance...

MULLEN: Stay the course. Keep on plugging because so many things that he told us during his campaign affect real-life people out here in the world. And keep on pressing.

GONYEA: And, she might add, don't take the criticism from your friends personally. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Rocky Mount, N.C. 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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