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Pa. County Democratic Chair Doubts Sanders' Fans Would Switch To Trump


Earlier this week, we spoke to Rick Tyler. He was Ted Cruz's communications director. He's now a commentator. He suggested Hillary Clinton could face trouble if white, working-class voters now backing Bernie Sanders decide to vote for Donald Trump. Polls suggest some Sanders backers might do that - as many as 20 percent in one survey.

This made us want to check back in with Jim Davis, the Democratic Party chairman in Fayette County, Pa., a once-thriving coal region south of Pittsburgh. Thanks for coming back on the program. We appreciate it.

JIM DAVIS: Well, I appreciate you having me.

GREENE: So what do you make of the suggestion that there are a lot of Democrats who, you know, have been big fans of Bernie Sanders and are now contemplating who they vote for if Bernie Sanders is no longer in the race and they're giving a serious look at Donald Trump?

DAVIS: You know. I don't hear that here, and I don't put much stock in that because ideologically, I just can't understand how someone could go from Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump. I just think it's just too far. The gap is too great. So at least here in our area, I'm not hearing that.

Of Course, I'm sure there are some out there who are just, you know, so disgruntled they would go from one outsider, as a characterized Bernie Sanders, to another outsider, who would be Donald Trump.

GREENE: There's been this protest movement going on - you know, these groups that have tried to disrupt Donald Trump rallies. And the response from Donald Trump and his supporters have been seen as very aggressive. Does that sort of thing, I mean, potentially turn off some Democrats who might be thinking about Trump?

DAVIS: You know what? I hate to say this, but I think there are some very conservative Democrats that might find that, you know, attractive as some, you know, sign that he is a strong leader. He's more masculine, and you know, they kind of look at these people as people who have nothing to do. They're just disruptive, and Donald Trump isn't going to pay any attention to them. And I think they like that.

GREENE: And we're talking about Democrats who, you know, you and I have talked about before. Many living in your county, I mean, you know - working-class people who, you know, have worked in coal mines, steel plants - people like that.

DAVIS: Exactly, that's exactly what we're talking - many of them, due to the downturn in the coal industry, are no longer in that industry. And I'm sure they're upset that they no longer have those historical jobs that their fathers, grandfathers and perhaps others in the family have had.

GREENE: Jim Davis, let me ask you. We sat down with you in your office a bit more than a month ago before the Pennsylvania primary. You said that you were already seeing a number of Democrats saying they would support Donald Trump. We've seen the polls between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton tightening. Are you seeing more and more Democrats sort of talk about Trump over Hillary Clinton?

DAVIS: Well, at this point, now that the primary is over, I don't think we'll see Democrats change their party registration. But yes, we're still seeing Democrats that are at least talking positively about Donald Trump. And we're concerned. And I - you know, I'm hoping that we get some interest from Hillary's campaign down here and maybe have her pay a visit to try to stimulate the Democrats because of you look at the turnout, the Republicans turned out almost double by percentages than the Democrats turned out in our county. I mean, there was almost 60 percent of the registered Republicans voted in this past primary.

GREENE: And Donald Trump won your county pretty handily on the Republican side?

DAVIS: Yes, despite the fact that the organized Republican Party was supporting Ted Cruz.

GREENE: Hillary Clinton won on the Democratic side?

DAVIS: She did but not by the numbers that many expected. It was much tighter here with her and Bernie Sanders than some thought it would be.

GREENE: What is lacking in Hillary Clinton's message or in terms of her strategy that is just preventing her from winning over, you know, these voters in places like your county?

DAVIS: I don't know that I could point to one factor. It just seems like she's not comfortable politicking, you know? Like, just use Bill Clinton or Barack Obama for examples. They just seem so at ease when they're speaking to groups and rallies and things of that nature, where she doesn't seem to - at least in my mind, she hasn't achieved that comfort level. It's almost like they really like doing it, where maybe she doesn't. I just don't think she's got people energized.

GREENE: And is a connection like that - I mean, seeing someone comfortable - something that might be particularly important to working-class families and many of the people in Fayette County, Pa.?

DAVIS: Yes. They have to feel like you're sincere, you care and you're there for them. Not to say she isn't, but maybe some aren't getting that message.

GREENE: Jim Davis, thanks so much for talking to us. As always, we appreciate it.

DAVIS: Oh, thank you for having me, and you have a good day.

GREENE: He's Democratic Party chair in Fayette County, Pa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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