BUCKS COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA - Jim Worthington began this election season a John Kasich supporter.
By election night, the Bucks County, Pennsylvania, voter had hundreds of supporters of Republican Donald Trump packed into the athletic club he owns, the result of People4Trump, the grassroots organization he founded after the Republican National Convention in July.
For almost 30 years, Pennsylvania’s electoral college votes have gone to Democratic presidential candidates, and that trend appeared to be holding as polls showed Hillary Clinton with a lead of several points over her opponent in the days leading up to the election. But in one of many election night surprises, the battleground state went for Trump.
Interest born of the convention
As with Pennsylvania’s unexpected flip for Trump, Worthington didn’t know he would end the campaign a Trump supporter. But his interest in Pennsylvania’s delegate process took him to the Republican Convention in Cleveland to represent his district. He found himself looking for a way to contribute to Trump’s campaign when he returned home.
Worthington worked with head organizer Linda Mitchell to assemble more than 400 volunteers to knock on doors, distribute yard signs and make phone calls in the months after the convention.
Clinton campaign offices significantly outnumbered the Trump ground presence, which for many months consisted mostly of volunteers like Worthington statewide.
“When we first formed our group,” Mitchell said, “we really did feel that there was no organization and no one pulling for Trump.”
The Republican nominee’s campaign hit the ground here in September, making use of the resources Worthington and Mitchell had built. Their efforts culminated in a Trump rally of several thousand people October 21. But Worthington said the strength of his organization was in its local roots.
“When Hillary sent her people in this past week and it was a bunch of paid-for, unknown, had no ties to the area [people],” he said.
In Bucks County, Clinton did end up edging Trump by less than 2,000 votes, but the Republican nominee was able to take the lead statewide by flipping several counties that voted Democratic in the 2012 election.
Election season battle
Dave Sonners, a People4Trump volunteer described the months leading up to the election as “hand-to-hand combat” in this part of Pennsylvania.
Every day he packed yard signs into the trunk of his “Trumpie” car — a homemade advertisement of campaign signs duct-taped to his car doors — and set out to start conversations with voters.
Sonners says Pennsylvania voters went for Trump because they “feel like they don’t want to lose their American identity and they feel like Barack Obama and Hillary [are] letting this become Europe — people like America. I think young kids even like the fact that we have an American identity and they want to keep it.”
Millennial voter Alex Taylor, who stayed up until 3 a.m. to watch Trump win, said that after eight years of a Democrat in the White House, “it’s definitely time for a Republican.” Taylor said Trump’s connection with the working class won over voters in the agricultural areas of the state.
Exit polls nationwide show Clinton couldn’t maintain the Democratic Party’s hold on young voters and failed to take a commanding lead with women voters that could have made up differences in other demographics.
For Bucks County voter Linda Crozier, who hadn’t expected the Republican nominee to win her home state of Pennsylvania, let alone the nomination, Hillary Clinton was never an option.
“I’ll be honest, I don’t think a woman has any right to be president of the United States,” she said. “Because we’re run too much by our emotions, and I don’t want anybody with their finger on the red button — she could be having a bad day, like we do.”
A new way of campaigning
Worthington said Trump’s unexpected success in Pennsylvania signals a change, not just in the country, but also in battleground state strategies.
“I think he’s changed the way people will run campaigns in the future,” he said, citing social media as a particularly effective way of reaching out.
Running on just a few hours of sleep, Worthington recalled how election night in Bucks County began with a very different set of expectations. For most of the people gathered in his gym, there was a sense that everything had to fall in place for Trump to win the state.
“The fact that it was the state that put him over the top to the 270 plus was amazing,” Worthington said, smiling. “You couldn’t write a better story.”