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Democrats And Labor Aim For Gains In Ohio


Democrats are seeking some good news in this year's midterm elections in Ohio, a state President Trump carried easily a couple of years ago. There's a Democratic incumbent U.S. Senator, Sherrod Brown, who has a big lead in the polls. Democrats have a good chance to take back the governor's mansion. Key is a grassroots campaign by unions. They are still smarting from the fact that Donald Trump won among traditionally Democratic union households in the state. NPR's Don Gonyea reports from Lorain, Ohio.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: 2016 was an election Ohio labor activists would just as soon forget. Democrats count on a big boost from the votes of labor households. But Donald Trump, with his talk of killing the North American Free Trade Agreement and bringing back coal and steel jobs, carried the labor vote here. That's what has Joe Thayer out canvassing for votes most every single day for months now.

JOE THAYER: This is the west side of Lorain 8th Ward.

GONYEA: With clipboard in hand, he looks up and down the street, identifying the specific homes on his list, the ones where union members live.

THAYER: So working out the folks that have requested the absentees. Have you mailed them back in? Make sure you get it in. If you did, great.

GONYEA: Thayer is a county elections coordinator for the Ohio AFLCIO. He says Trump's win here was disheartening. But this year, the unions are taking a more focused, more personal approach to politicking as a result. And he says he gets why so many union members found Trump the candidate so appealing with those big promises on trade and jobs.

THAYER: Made in America, Make America Great Again and yet, there hasn't been one thing that his - any of his companies or family's companies ever produced that he's brought back in the states. You lead by example.

GONYEA: After two hours knocking on doors that afternoon, it was a nighttime stop at a local union hall.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We have a couple speaker with us today, so we need to...

GONYEA: This is UAW Local 2192, which represents county child services workers and employees from nearby Oberlin College. Thayer makes his pitch to an audience of about 50 seated at tables...

THAYER: The opposition that we have to our way of life, to the labor movement, to the middle class is growing and growing.

GONYEA: And he says he needs people to give some of their time for the home stretch. That got 46-year-old Racheal Cambarare to volunteer to work a political campaign for the first time ever. Her motivation - Donald Trump.

RACHEAL CAMBARARE: You know, Trump took power and just every day, the bad news and the things that come out of his mouth and the decisions he makes, you know, we just - we need to do everything we possibly can to take things back.

GONYEA: Union volunteers will tell you of success stories, including of their co-workers who voted for Trump and who are now losing faith in the president. But they'll also say they know there are union members still cheering the president on. I also talked to a few such pro-Trump union voters who didn't want to speak on the record. Then there are voters like 66-year-old Rita Bowen. A registered nurse, she was voting early in Lorain County yesterday. She's a reluctant union member and doesn't take union advice on politics. Even so, Bowen, who says she has cast ballots for Democrats and Republicans, says this about her vote in 2018.

RITA BOWEN: But this year, I just really wanted to vote all Democrat because I don't know - I don't like what's going on.

GONYEA: I asked her to explain. She says it's Trump. She doesn't think he's looking out for the best interests of the people. She doesn't trust him, and she pointedly questions his honesty. Labor activists, meanwhile, say this year's campaign will set the stage for what they do in 2020 but only if this year's tactics actually work.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Lorain, Ohio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.