Trump voters relive in the rural Midwest
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The writer is a contributing columnist of FT
Della, Amy and Jillian Gratz are lined up in descending order of age and height as they wait for the Junior Sheep Judging Competition at the McHenry County Fair in northern Illinois. They represent three generations of a proud Republican family in the Democratic state.
Amy, 36, dressed in cowboy boots, normally spends her days raising Boer goats, but took a day off to attend this first social event in the Midwestern rural calendar, the County Fair. Stepmother Della, 71, and her daughter Jillian, 7, flank her in the prickly shade where the sheep strut about.
Illinois’ 14th Congressional District, which includes parts of McHenry County, was one of those traditionally Republican regions that saw a ‘blue wave’ of Democrats rise to power in the 2018 midterm election. , on a wave of opposition to then-President Donald Trump. In 2020, African-American MP Lauren Underwood barely retained her seat, winning just over 5,300 votes out of over 400,000 votes.
Perhaps that’s why Joe Biden chose McHenry County for his first visit to Illinois as president last month. His Democratic Party knows he might struggle to hold onto places like this in next year’s midterm elections. “It’s only a couple of times in recent history that the president’s party hasn’t suffered mid-term,” James Druckman, associate director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University told Evanston, Illinois. “I think the Democrats are bracing for a loss.”
Despite everything that has happened since last year’s presidential election, including the Jan.6 assault on Capitol Hill, McHenry County is still largely Trump’s country. He won with just under 50% of the vote, compared to nearly 47.5% for Biden. In neighboring Boone County, where the Gratz family operates a farm, Trump beat Biden by 55.6 to 42.2 percent of the vote. Amy and Della are determined to vote for Trump again in 2024, if he is on the ballot.
I apologize for keeping my distance as we chat, explaining that as a diabetic I am concerned about the recent surge in Covid-19 infections in areas like McHenry County, which even as we we were talking about, exceeded the threshold for “substantial” community transmission. The United States Centers for Disease Control now recommends that even vaccinated people wear masks indoors in these areas. But Amy and Della assure me that this is just another “overreaction” from the CDC.
McHenry County is using the fair to try to boost Covid vaccinations, as only half of its population is fully vaccinated. But at the free vaccine booth, three bored medical workers are playing on their phones: no one has shown up for an injection all day.
So who do the fairgoers think is responsible for the upsurge in Covid? Peggy Hubbard, an African-American Republican candidate for the US Senate, hangs out at the GOP booth. She blames what she calls the “center for the dizzy and confused” – the CDC.
County GOP Chairman Tyler Wilke said, “First we are told to get vaccinated, now we are told the vaccines don’t work, so you have to wear a mask again. . . and the CDC wonders why people don’t believe them.
Outside of the CDC, what issues do Republican voters worry about most when they stop by the GOP booth? Hubbard says it’s “critical race theory,” which Republicans use as a shorthand for the idea that the United States is a structurally racist country. Northwestern’s Druckman calls it a “label that plays to the strategic advantage of Republicans in nearby neighborhoods.”
Will the blue wave subside next year? Marie, 63, wears two surgical masks stapled together – one of the few masks visible anywhere at the fair. She split her ticket by voting for both Republican Trump and Democrat Underwood last year, and could do it again, she says – but the other way around. Democrat for president – “because Trump lost his marbles” – but Republican for Congress, because Democrats in Congress “just give money to the fist.” But who knows what will happen by then. If we haven’t learned anything else, it’s because a year is a very long time in a pandemic country.