(UPDATED WITH EXIT POLL DATA FROM RUST BELT)
Tuesday night wasn’t the first time I had been in Eldorado’s, a Columbus dive bar, popular with blue collar Donald Trump supporters in the key battleground state.
One late afternoon in July, I had drunk few beers with the regulars at the old-fashioned pool table and juke box bar in the Clintonville neighborhood and the conversations I had been part of there stuck with me throughout the remainder of the presidential election campaign.
That afternoon was an introduction to the America you occasionally hear referenced in vague coded language from the political pundits on television.
In the cold terms of the pollsters, the surrogates, the analysts and journalists, the clientele of the bar in the parking lot by the Dollar General store, would be classified mainly as “non-college educated, white voters.”
It is a demographic we heard a lot about on Tuesday night but heard little from during the campaign.
Manual laborers/burgers & fries
Among those I met that day, were retired manual labourers, a Vietnam veteran who said he just about “got by,” a mostly unemployed guy in his 30’s and a friendly old chap who had a habit of taking home a burger and fries to his wife as a peace offering after staying a little later than he should have.
We talked politics openly and if these were ‘silent Trump voters’ they weren’t particularly quiet.
There were working women who popped in for a beer or two after work and later in the evening some bikers had turned up, parking their wheels outside the smoking terrace and heading inside for the live music.
The band, men in their sixties clad in denim and black leather, promised classic rock covers and after opening their set, the frontman announced the next song was dedicated to ‘Donald J Trump’ . Then came the familiar opening bars to Neil Young’s ‘Keep on Rockin' in the Free World’. The crowd lapped it up. Yes, this bar was Trump territory alright.
With the election returns starting to come in on Tuesday, I returned to the bar. There was no party under way but a small group of drinkers gathered around the television showing election coverage but others were watching the Cleveland Cavaliers’ NBA game, while some just listened to the country and rock music from the juke box.
There had been intense political discussion in the bar throughout the past weeks said bar manager Claude Boveine who said he had sensed the mood throughout the campaign.
“I think more people are voting against Hillary than actually voting for Trump,” he said.
“Clintonville is a very liberal area but I am seeing a lot more working class people going for Trump. There are meaningless jobs, we have lost so many good jobs because of globalism and NAFTA and so on,” he said.
While not all his regular drinkers were Trump supporters - and two of the women in the bar told me of their disgust at the Republican candidate and how they supported Hillary Clinton, the billionaire had clearly reached his target demographic.
“He doesn’t sugar coat things, he says things that a lot of people think are the truth, not the P.C bull crap. She is pretty much about globalism, we have had Obama for the last eight years, where it is all about world citizenry rather than U.S citizens. He is a bit more selfish about looking after our own people first,” Boveine said.
The frequent charge that Trump has no experience of holding office, carried little weight with the bar manager in his late 50’s.
“Neither did Obama. Neither did Reagan, who I think was the best president we have had in my lifetime. Maybe it is time to blow things up a little bit. He is the type that could do that, go against the grain.”
If El Dorado is a place where Trump supporters can opine without looking over their shoulders, liberal Clintonville, “white college-educated voters”, tend to drink at the bar across the road.
Craft ales, Brexit and the BBC
Bob’s Bar, describes itself as the ‘Cultural Hub of the Mid-West’ and in place of the cheap cans of domestic beer served by Boveine, they have the long list of craft Ales, including an ironically named Danish sour beer known as ‘The Brexit,’ a reference to the surprise British vote this summer to leave the European Union.
The television behind the bar was tuned not to CNN or Fox News but to the BBC’s election coverage with barman Rich saying he was weary of “crappy over-sensationalist American news.”
As the evening rolled on and Trump’s surprising performance gradually became more clear, Rich was keen to urge caution. “It’s early days, long, long way to go,” he said.
But for the two women sat the bar, Katherine Sturbaum and Gretchen Weller, it was quickly becoming clear that Trump was heading towards the White House, a prospect that horrified them.
“It terrifies me,” said Sturbaum, “As an educated woman it terrifies me. I don’t like the divisiveness and the hate that has come out. We should be respectful in this process and we have lost that. It’s not a debate any longer. It has become kind of ridiculous,” she said.
Weller said there was little doubt that Trump had managed to reach lower income and small town, rural Ohio.
“I come from a small town, we both do ... I think there is a perception that the Republican party has always taken care of small towns and the rural areas.
“I think it is kind of like a brand issue. If you look at statistically at who has done well under Republican administrations it is people with more money and who are educated and so on than people who work in factories or live in small towns,” she said.
In the days before the term, ’Non-college educated white voters’ became part of the political vernacular, analysts talked of union workers, blue collar voters and Sturbaum said she feared the Democratic party had lost its connection to that class.
“I grew up in a very blue collar family, my father was in a union and was an advocate for worker’s rights and so on. Thirty years ago, people like him believed that the Democrats was their party and they supported them. Something has changed along the way and I am not sure what that is,” she said.
What has changed for working class voters is a question that will likely be high on the agenda of Democratic party strategists once they recover from the shock of Tuesday night. Perhaps it was like the Brexit vote, when a significant section of traditional working class Labour Party voters rejected the arguments presented to them by party leaders, the establishment elite and the media pundits.
But no doubt Trump had also touched upon other, uglier, moods and instincts.
The Democratic surrogates on network television talked, probably more in hope than expectation, about Trump "reaching out" to "heal" a divided nation. How will places like Ohio come together after this vote?
In El Dorado’s Claude did not think a spirt of reconciliation would be on the agenda any time soon.
“I don’t think so. This divide is going to go on for a little while. But it's up to the next guy now."
UPDATE: Donald Trump won all four rust belt states on Tuesday effectively handing him the White House. He won Ohio by 450,000 votes out of 5 million, an 8.5 per cent margin. He won the other three states: Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin by a combined 107,000 votes. Exit polls show 48 percent of Ohio voters believe international trade takes away U.S. jobs, while 32 percent believe it creates jobs. Of those who felt it was bad for jobs 67 percent voted for Trump. and only 29 percent voted for Clinton. Of the 32 percent who felt it was good for jobs 56 percent voted for Clinton and 38 percent for Trump. In Michigan's half the electorate feel trade takes away jobs, and those voters supported Trump by a 57-36 percent margin. The 31 percent who think it creates jobs backed Clinton by a 65 percent to 31 percent. In Ohio, 47 percent of voters say trade hurts workers, and they lined up for Trump by a more than 2-to-1 margin. The 46 percent who say it creates jobs or has no effect strongly backed Clinton. And in Pennsylvania, 53 percent of the electorate agreed that trade is bad for jobs. Of those 62 percent supported Trump, while 34 percent backed Clinton. The 35 percent who feel trade is a job creator backed Clinton by a 2-to-1 margin.