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Getting to know Sonoma County’s Trump voters

There are the so-called “shy Trump voters,” who support the president but are reluctant to put it out there publicly. And there are in-your-face Trumpers, such as those flying flags proclaiming “Trump 2020: F--- Your Feelings.”

Elaine Groff of Santa Rosa is a scared Trump voter — not in the sense that she’s afraid to share her political affiliation. Standing outside the Registrar’s Office Friday, she expressed her fear for the future of the country.

“I’m 78 years old,” said the Coffey Park resident. “I was born three months after Pearl Harbor.” When she was a young girl, her family in Elgin, Illinois, housed refugees from communist Russia.

“I know what the issues were,” she said, of those years at the dawn of the Cold War. “And I struggle with the extremeness of the left now.

“It scares me,” she said of the gulf today between Democrats and Republicans, and the degraded discourse between them. “It sounds too much like what was going on when I was a little girl.”

She appreciates Trump’s emphasis on the nation’s military, and his sometimes bellicose tone.

“He’s like a protector. He’s ready. He’s prepared.”

Trump, she added, is “making peace in the Middle East,” and “helping our economy the best way he knows how.”

To be sure, not every voter would give Trump a passing grade on the economy, which surged early in his presidency, before being torpedoed this year by the coronavirus, which has resulted in historic job losses and wiped out thousands of small businesses.

But the president’s supporters — many but not all of the county’s 54,000 registered Republicans — point to the tax cuts and soaring stock market that marked the first three years of his term. They praise his foreign policy decisions, his appointments of conservative judges, and his “prioritizing,” as one delicately put it, the nation’s citizen’s over its immigrants.

Not taking it personally

Hannah Levin is a sophomore at Sonoma State University. She intends to transfer to UCLA or UC Davis, double-major in political science and English, then possibly become a “lobbyist, policy analyst and journalism pundit.”

In the meantime, the Rohnert Park resident is vice president of the Sonoma State Republicans. “I am used to taking a lot of heat for that,” she said in an email, “and it has led me to be excluded from hanging out with certain groups of people, but I stay pretty strong and don’t take others’ opinions too personally.”

If someone is going to dislike her just because she has different view, if that person isn’t interested in “an open and honest discussion, I don’t think they could have become a real friend to me anyway.”

Yes, she is voting for Trump, but with this disclaimer: “I want to make it clear that just because many Republicans back President Trump politically, it does not necessarily mean they condone his actions in his personal life.”

She notes approvingly that the president has taken a chainsaw to regulations, appointed scores of conservative judges, presided over major tax cuts, and pulled the U.S. from the Paris climate accords and Iran nuclear deal. She’s especially pleased that the president has backed up his promise to be an advocate for the anti-abortion movement.

That issue is intensely personal with Levin, who has younger, triplet sisters. Many multiple pregnancies end up being terminated, she said.

A lot of people are going to vote for Trump, she said, based solely on the fact that “the only other option is Biden” — a candidate who leaves her deeply underwhelmed.

That’s not quite true. Luke Gover, her fellow and the president of Sonoma State Republicans, is casting a protest vote for Libertarian Jo Jorgenson.

Trump, he believes, “has turned Republicanism into a nasty cult of personality.”

“I didn’t change, but the Republican Party platform did.”

Beyond the bluster

Gover is on the same wavelength as Joshua Simmons, a Republican who cast his ballot for Biden Friday. Moments later, he talked about his disgust both with Trump — “I don’t like his policies, or the way he treats people” — and the Republicans who have enabled him.

Simmons is a Raiders fan — he spoke through a silver and black mask — and a special ed teacher who holds Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in similarly low regard. “She’s a horrible person, just like him.”

Joe from Santa Rosa, who insisted on anonymity in order to avoid the wrath of the “Sturmabteilung and Red Guards” of the left, allowed that yes, Trump “is crude sometimes, and given to bluster and bombast, but if you look behind that he is doing the job, and doing it well.”

Sonoma County has “just over” 300,000 registered voters, said Registrar of Voters Deva Proto. Of those, 169,000 are Democrats, 54,000 are Republicans, and 61,000 are not affiliated with a party. The rest, Proto said, register with the American Independent, Green, Libertarian or Peace & Freedom parties, as well as “miscellaneous.”

While Republicans are in the distinct minority in this county, where Hillary Clinton took 70% of the vote in 2016, they weren’t difficult to find at the polling place just outside Proto’s office.

Hoping California goes purple

A woman who declined to give her name, but described herself as a self-employed business owner in the Santa Rosa area, confirmed that yes, it is difficult being a Trump supporter in the county — “and even in my own household.”

“I have three kids and two of them think I’m this racist, immoral person.”

They criticize her when she wears her “Back The Blue” mask in support of police. “But my Dad was a cop,” she said. “I supported Back the Blue before Black Lives Matter was even an issue.”

She keeps her political views hidden, “unless I know I’m around like-minded people.” If it were known she was a Trump voter, she said, “I’d lose a lot of business.”

She spoke with frustration of the Hunter Biden email story. Conservative media outlets have devoted a significant amount of coverage to a cache of emails and documents purportedly detailing the business activities of the vice president’s son. But so far, the emails have failed to gain traction in many media outlets, where journalists have struggled to confirm many of the allegations.

Nor have the claims of Tony Bobulinski, an ex-business partner of Hunter Biden, moved the needle on the presidential race.

“Why isn’t the media talking about it?” she asked. “It’s so one-sided. Our nation is controlled by the media, which is controlled by the left.”

Even though Trump’s chances of winning California’s 55 electoral votes is nil, she was looking forward to Sunday’s Trump Parade of cars, trucks and motorcycles from Santa Rosa down to Sausalito, all the way up to Healdsburg and home again.

“I know this state won’t go red,” she said. “But I’m hoping it goes purple.”

“I could lose my job”

Like many Trump voters, a 30-year-old, college educated Santa Rosa woman who emailed The Press Democrat is willing to give him a pass on the pandemic and credit him for the humming economy he presided over before COVID-19 put it in dumpster.

“What it breaks down to, for me,” she wrote in an email, “is that Trump and his conservative policies are grounded in reality. Trump was a businessman for years. He has worked and contributed to the world. He gave up something to do a public service.”

She further cites the “record-low unemployment, a booming economy, deregulation, prioritizing the people that are citizens, etc.” His policies have done so much for minority communities.”

This woman asked to remain anonymous “because I genuinely fear that I could lose my job or experience other negative consequences if people know I support Trump.”

While not ashamed of her views, she’s had “horrible experiences of people finding out and rather than discussing (it) with me, cut off contact or yell while having an extreme emotional response.”

Robert, who asked not to be identified beyond his first name, shared that he’d “literally been told by clients they will not pay their invoices if I support (Trump). There is an unspoken assumption that by supporting Donald Trump, one is a Nazi, a fascist. The hatred and animosity toward Trump supporters seems unprecedented.

“Scared for our country”

Kelly, a 40-something woman from Rohnert Park isn’t, “like, a huge Trump supporter. But I’m definitely voting for him.”

She likes how he’s handled foreign policy. “And I feel like the economy’s been really great. Of course now it’s a different story,” she added, noting the damage done by the pandemic. “But that would’ve probably happened to anyone.”

Her decision has been made easier, Kelly said, by what she sees when she looks across the aisle. While she’s always been “a moderate voter,” she believes the Democratic party is “kind of catering to far-left viewpoints.”

Which brings us back to 78-year-old Elaine Groff, who also believes Democrats have veered too far left. “In the old days,” she recalled, Democrats and Republicans were only slightly different. Now they’re like this.”

She held her hands as far apart as she could.

And she was correct. It’s a measure of how polarized the parties are, going into this election, that Groff might as well have been speaking for Democrats and Republicans when she admitted, “It’s an awful thing to say, but I’m just scared for our country if the other party gets in.”

You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at 707-521-5214 or austin.murphy@pressdemocrat.com or on Twitter @ausmurph88.

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