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Government & Politics

Donald Trump Won Parma in 2016. Will He Do It Again?

Parma sign
Nick Castele
/
ideastream
A sign in Parma's Anthony Zielinski Park.

In 2016, Vice President Joe Biden took the stage in a Parma union hall to campaign for Hillary Clinton. He dropped by Rudy’s Strudel and Bakery, known for its pastries and pierogi—the kind of retail politics rarely seen in this year’s pandemic election.

President Barack Obama had won the city twice by double digits. But that November, Donald Trump eked out a less-than-four-point win over Clinton, while falling short of an outright majority.

Parma is the seventh largest city in Ohio, with 52,000 registered voters this year. Most elected officials here are Democrats—and many of them, like Mayor Tim DeGeeter, endorsed Biden early in the primary.

“Our voters, we have been labeled since the 80s Reagan Democrats, very moderate base here,” DeGeeter told ideastream. “When you had the presidential election four years ago, I think some of those voters looked at President Trump and went that way, but they also swing back.”

As a whole, Cuyahoga County votes reliably Democratic, but a number of predominantly white suburbs shifted politically four years ago.

Suburbs like Bay Village, Rocky River and Chagrin Falls gave majorities to Clinton in 2016, despite backing Republican Mitt Romney four years earlier.

Parma, Parma Heights and Brook Park swung in the opposite direction. Although Clinton still came out ahead in the latter two cities, her margins were much tighter than Obama’s victories.

But just as Parma flipped into Trump’s column four years ago, it could flip right back this time, DeGeeter said, pointing to the 2018 election results. In the governor’s race that year, Democrat Richard Cordray won Parma by almost five points, despite losing the state. Sen. Sherrod Brown carried Parma by 17 points in his 2018 reelection bid.

Of all the Democrats who sought the 2020 presidential nomination, Biden can connect best with Parma voters, DeGeeter argued.  

“With his experience and understanding the middle class and that folks want to send their kids off to college and not be sky-high in debt, and live the American Dream,” he said, “I think that kind of resonates with our voters here in Parma.”

On a fall afternoon, Kathy Parker cleaned leaves from the curb outside her house. She’s retired, receives a pension from a job at an automotive paint company and was eager to sing the president’s praises.

“To me, he can do no wrong,” she said. “I enjoy listening to him, he’s hilarious.”

Parker has lived on this street for 26 years, she said. She was no fan of Obama and remains firmly in Trump’s column this year.

“I think he’s a genius,” Parker said. “And he knows, he knows, he’s done so much and people don’t, especially the Democrats, don’t acknowledge that, they hate him so badly. Four years that he’s been in office, they’ve done nothing but try to get him out of office. Why?”

Planted in the ground next to her home was a small black-and-white American flag, marked across the middle with a blue line. She said she picked it up while out looking for Trump flags and hats.

“And I saw the Blue Lives Matter flag, and I thought, I am for the cops,” she said. “How can you want to defund the police? Who’s going to protect you?”

Another Parma resident, Alex Philbin, said Trump changed the Republican Party, pushing it to embrace more restrictions on immigration, for instance.

“The issue of the wall, of immigration, H-1B visas, all that was not important to the party,” he said. “But then now he’s steered it into that direction. I think that’s how he changed it.”

It’s change that Philbin said he supports. He voted for Trump four years ago and backs him today, too. 

“He’s probably the best American president we’ve ever had in our history,” Philbin said. “Because of his issues and stuff. Because he’s actually advocating for middle class America.”

Although there are plenty of Trump yard signs across Parma, you’ll see Biden signs, too. Mark Phillips suspects there are Biden supporters in town who just haven’t stuck their loyalties out on the front lawn.

“I have a Biden sign in my yard,” Phillips said, “but there are plenty of Trump signs around here, and not just one sign. I mean there’s flags, banners.”

Phillips is a schoolteacher, retired Navy officer, and a registered Republican who supports Biden. He backed Ronald Reagan and both Presidents Bush, but sees Trump as wrong for the GOP, he said.

“I just want someone in there that has high integrity,” he said, “that is not telling lies to the public all the time, that’s not talking to the public in these big, general terms, like, Oh, everybody loves me, the way that President Trump talks.”

So far, absentee ballot requests from Democrats in Parma are outpacing those by Republicans more than 2 to 1, although requests from independents outnumber them both.

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