Donald Trump won the Massachusetts Republican presidential primary, on March 1, with more than 49 percent of the vote. The state gave him his biggest margin of victory so far.
Perhaps it was the giddiness of the night's victory, but at the celebrations at Trump's Massachusetts headquarters, in Littleton, Trump's campaign officials were making bold predictions about the general election.
"I predict that in November, Massachusetts is going to vote Republican," said Stephen Stepanek, New Hampshire co-chairman for Trump.
Massachusetts often elects Republican governors. It elected Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate in 2010. But voters here have not gone for a Republican in a presidential election since they supported Ronald Reagan in 1984.
Can Trump change that?
As the Massachusetts co-chairman of Trump's campaign sees it, the businessman can carry the state.
"We're seeing on the ground a surge of people that may have traditionally voted Democrat that are voting Republican," said state Rep. Geoff Diehl.
This year's GOP primary drew record numbers of voters. In thinking about how Trump might carry the state in November, Diehl cites Brown's victory against Martha Coakley: He carried a large percentage of union workers — 49 percent — according to an exit poll conducted for the AFL-CIO.
"The rank and file do their own thing when they feel like their careers may be protected by a Republican candidate who speaks strongly on behalf of the values they care about when it comes to their jobs," Diehl said.
Diehl is a state representative from Whitman, in a part of the state that went heavily for Trump. Trump won 61 percent of the vote in Whitman.
"We're seeing on the ground a surge of people that may have traditionally voted Democrat that are voting Republican."Massachusetts state Rep. Geoff Diehl
Diehl described the people who he says have rallied behind Trump: "Guys who are Teamsters, guys who are painters, electricians, firefighters, so I've seen union workers help me, and it really has been no surprise that a lot of them have said to me that they are planning to vote Trump or did vote Trump. They think that he is going to stand up to the trade deals that aren't necessarily benefiting our country internationally."
Trade Pains Boost Trump's Campaign
Trump often blames trade with Mexico, Japan and China for lost American jobs.
At MIT, David Autor has been studying the impact of trade on American workers. He's found that while the U.S. as a whole benefits from trade, some parts of the country have been hit hard by it. In a recent paper, Autor and his co-authors reported that since China's entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001, trade with China has cost 2.4 million U.S. jobs.
"Even though in net we're, as a country, wealthier, some people could be a lot poorer, and that's particularly the case for people who were in these what you could argue are somewhat sunset industries, with limited skill sets," Autor said.
Autor has found that trade with China has hit some parts of the country especially hard.
"A lot of the most impacted areas are along the South, South Atlantic," he said. "We're talking about labor-intensive U.S. manufacturing — so textiles, leather goods, toys and dolls, rubber products and also commodity furniture. And a lot of that labor-intensive not-very-high-wage U.S. manufacturing happens in the South, and a lot of those specific industries tend to be in the Carolinas, in Virgina."
But Massachusetts has also felt the pain of trade with China.
A 2014 report by the Economic Policy Institute found that parts of Massachusetts were especially hard-hit by imports of Chinese computer and electronic parts, and that Massachusetts lost more jobs to trade with China than all but eight states. Our 3rd Congressional District, which encompasses the Merrimack Valley, was among the top 20 most affected districts in the country.
Trump has done well in Massachusetts' blue-collar communities. One Merrimack Valley town where Trump has significant support is Methuen. Trump won 61 percent of the vote in the Republican primary, and 26 percent of the overall vote.
Working Class Appeal May Not Be Enough To Win Mass.
At the Heav'nly Donuts on Merrimack Street, it seemed on a recent visit that Trump had nearly unanimous support.
Harry Kalashian, a retired union carpenter from Haverhill, thinks Trump can carry the union vote. "I really do," he said.
Kalashian said the Democrats have abandoned the working class. "The Democrats nowadays is not the same Democrats of years ago," he said.
Still, there is skepticism even here that Trump can win Massachusetts.
Bob Campagna, a retired regional service manager for a local computer company, doesn't think Trump can pull it off.
"Not a chance," Campagna said. "Here in Massachusetts, my vote never counts, because of all the Democrats."
Campagna clarified that he's talking about presidential elections. Massachusetts does regularly elect Republican governors. "Yes, we do elect Republican governors that lean toward being a liberal Democrat."
Campagna acknowledged that Massachusetts also elected Scott Brown.
"One time, luckily," Campagna said. "I think it was because of the person he was running against."
To make sure Trump can't pull off a victory, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO plans to inform its members of his positions.
"It's early yet, and a lot of the members have watched the television shows, and they buy the quick soundbites initially, but when you really get down to making a decision between now and November, if Trump is still in the race, we certainly will be shining a light on his record and exposing the true Donald Trump, and his record is not a good one for working people," said Steve Tolman, the president of the 400,000-member union.
Tolman recognizes that Trump's message resonates among union workers.
"The working class haven't seen, really, a raise in 40 years," Tolman said. "They've been struggling and hit hard, so they buy the fact that he's been bucking the system."
An analysis for WBUR by MassINC Polling Group president Steve Koczela and research director Rich Parr found that the fewer college graduates a town has, the bigger the Trump victory was last month in the GOP primary. That supports the idea that Trump is resonating with the working class, but Koczela says that's not enough.
"Republicans typically lose Massachusetts by 20, 25 points," Koczela said. "So it's not as though just a few things need to shift around and a few demographic groups need to change by a point or two. Really, everything has to change in order for Trump to win Massachusetts in the general."
In 2012, President Obama beat Mitt Romney here by 23 points. Only five states gave the president a bigger margin of victory.
Kozcela points out that Trump would start a general election campaign in Massachusetts with some big disadvantages.
"His favorables among Latinos, for instance, are way underwater," he said. "That's going to be a group that potentially can move even more Democratic than it has in past cycles. It's also a group that's going to be bigger, most likely, than it has in past cycles. So, the disadvantage that Trump starts off with is larger even than what Romney started out with."
This segment aired on April 5, 2016.