Polls show Democrat Joe Biden ahead in the US presidential race but voters in Bedford County in swing state Pennsylvania are staying faithful to Donald Trump. They voted overwhelmingly for the current president in 2016 and look set to do the same again on Tuesday.
Trump won Bedford county, a fertile expanse of pasture land in the mountainous Appalachian region, by 82 percent of votes in 2016.
The New York property mogul lured voters from this 48-000 community with his straight-talking style and no-nonsense approach. Four years on, the charm is still there.
“He’s a little rough and he’s very candid, but I feel like he’s honest,” says Carol Reyan, a 58-year-old Uber driver.
“We call it ‘he shoots from the hip’, and when we say that, we mean he’s not going to play around with words or lie to anybody,” she told RFI.
Trump has said he has delivered on the promises made on the 2016 campaign and early in his term, including protecting manufacturing jobs, slashing taxes and halting illegal immigration.
For Randy Delozier, head of the online publication Bedford County Press, supporters want four more years of the same.
“What they like about Trump is the tax cuts they have gotten. I know a lot of middle class who have gotten pretty good tax cuts, and border security. They like the idea that he's controlling the illegals that are coming into the area,” he told RFI.
Delozier shrugs off criticism from rights groups over Trump’s immigration policy that has led to scenes of parents being separated from their children at the Mexican border.
“They're coming in illegally. They know they're taking a chance of being separated. And when you come in illegally, that's what happens.”
The president’s other pledges have yet to be realized, such as bringing back coal and steel.
But locals in Bedford, which neighbours a coal mining county, don't hold that against him.
"It's kind of hard because we're a small community, he can only do so much," says Delozier.
The leafy town, most of whose residents are farmers or blue collar workers, has seen a decline in manufacturing in recent years similar to other Midwestern cities. And now the economy is slowing just as coronavirus cases engulf the United States and Europe.
Trump has vowed to “defeat the invisible enemy” in reference to Covid-19, which has killed 230,000 Americans. His handling of the pandemic may have dented his approval ratings but not among voters in Bedford.
“It's not the President's fault that this virus is here,” says Carol Reyan.
“People need to take our own power back, protect our own families and take care of ourselves. Eat better food, you know, all that kind of stuff,” she argues, insisting that Trump, like other leaders, was taken off guard by the virus.
Echoing Trump, Reyan says the threat of the coronavirus is being blown out of proportion and is skeptical about a future vaccine produced by billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates.
“We don't trust it because Bill Gates developed it and he's not a doctor at all. So you know, I feel like Trump, we feel like Trump's going to protect us in that area,” she said.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, along with other nonprofits, have poured funding into a Covid-19 vaccine.
However Reyan, who identifies with the QAnon conspiracy movement, believes Gates like other big pharmaceutical companies, is enforcing lucrative mass vaccinations to control humanity.
Really good and really bad
Like many of Trump's strongest supporters, Reyan has forged an emotional connection with the president, whom she sees as being under attack from a corrupt elite in Washington.
She points to allegations of corrupt dealings in Ukraine concerning Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, which so far remain unproven. Democrats maintain the claims are an effort by Republicans to damage Biden’s campaign.
“The truth is going it come out, we just have to wait and let it come out. And I think that if Trump loses, it won't.”
Does she like everything about Trump?
No. “The good stuff’s really good and the bad stuff’s really bad,” she says referring to the president’s reluctance to distance himself from far right groups.
“A lot of us are scared about that part but what are you going to do?”
Trump vs. Biden
Voting for Joe Biden is not an option says Randy Delozier.
“Joe Biden has been in the establishment for 47 years, and I don't think that's what they want anymore. I think they want a fresh new face.”
Despite Biden being only three years older than Trump, at 77, Republicans have sought to cast the Democrat candidate as ‘Sleepy Joe’, unable to keep up with the grueling pace of Trump’s campaign blitz across battleground states.
The Democrat has an average 51 percent in Pennsylvania as a whole and has spent more time in this key swing state than anywhere else during the campaign.
But Bedford county is Trump country, even though Delozier admits it is no Trump mania.
“I think a lot of people here probably wish that he (Trump) wouldn't act the way he does,” he says, “However, they're willing to overlook that because they feel he's what can move the country forward, that won't put them in reverse,” he commented.