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At the Home Town Cafe in Winchendon, head cook and owner Jesse Algarin serves up breakfast and lunch. His specialty is corned beef. Lots of corn beef. On the wall behind the counter, he keeps a hand-written tally of how much he's sold since he opened in 2013.
"Seven-thousand-five-hundred-and-ninety-six pounds," he says proudly. "We've remained open throughout the pandemic."
That's a lot of corned beef. Algarin is a proud veteran and a life-long Republican who voted for Trump in 2016, and who says he will vote for him again in November.
"Trump said three things he was going to do," Algarin says. "Look out for the U.S.; bring more jobs back to the U.S.; and he was going to build the wall. He has done everything he has said he was going to do. To me, that's someone who should be re-elected."
The president has embraced an "America First" policy, which Algarin likes. But unemployment is now above 11% because of the pandemic. As for the wall, the project is far from complete; and the president promised Mexico would pay for it, which hasn't happened. And when it comes to the President's leadership during the pandemic, Algarin says the crisis caught lots of people off guard, but acknowledges that Trump doesn't always get it right.
"Trump does have a bad side," he says. "It's what I would call 'verbal diarrhea of the jaw.' He doesn't think before he talks. That's his downfall. The problem is he's not a politician; he's a businessman. In the past, we've had too many politicians and we've taken it in the shorts."
That's why Algarin says he could never support a lifelong politician like former Vice President Joe Biden.
"He has done everything he has said he was going to do. To me, that's someone who should be re-elected."Jesse Algarin
Algarin is one of more than a million Massachusetts voters who supported Donald Trump in 2016. He was also among a group of Trump supporters profiled by WBUR three-and-a-half years ago as part of a project called "Red Voters In A Blue State."
Much of the President's support in Massachusetts came from the middle of the state, where you can drive from Winchendon, on the New Hampshire border, south to Connecticut, and pass through a line of towns that all voted for Trump. Today, there are still lots of Trump bumper stickers and lawn signs there, suggesting that Algarin is not alone. But there's also evidence of cracks in the president's support.
This part of the state is largely rural, where the mill jobs are long gone. Like parts of the rust belt and industrial Midwest, this was fertile ground for Trump's message four years ago, according to Nicholas Vantangoli, who teaches history and coaches football at Ware High School.
"If you take a ride through the downtown area of our town, you can see a skeleton of a former place, and that is really echoed in the little towns around here," he says. "And that is part of the reason I had come out in favor of President Trump."
But Vantangoli is disappointed that that those jobs haven't come back. He's also bothered by Trump's divisive rhetoric, particularly around race. And, he says, the President has done a poor job handling the pandemic.
"I think, at a moment when we needed a calm, cool, collected leader, we may not be seeing that right now," he says. "And [he's not] listening to the experts, [he's not listening to] Dr. Fauci. That's the trouble."
A recent Harris poll found that 58% of Americans disapprove of the President's handling of the pandemic. Vantangoli is among them and says he won't vote for Trump in November.
""I think, at a moment when we needed a calm, cool, collected leader, we may not be seeing that right now."Nicholas Vantangoli
Here's another small indication of the shifting political landscape in this part of the state: Back in 2016, Vantangoli ran a mock election for his history class; students voted decisively for Donald Trump over Hilary Clinton. This past March, around the time of the Massachusetts primary, Vantangoli organized another election. This time, the Democrats out-polled the president. And the top Democratic voter-getter was Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
"Had Bernie been the candidate, I think I would have been very comfortable voting for him," Vantangoli says.
But he doesn't think much of Joe Biden, so Vantangoli says he might vote Libertarian in November.
"We can only make America strong with strong leadership, and I really don't think that happened after [Trump's] election."Nancy Talbot
Nancy Talbot, Ware's town clerk, is also not supporting President Trump. She is one of those moderate, independent voters who, according to recent polls, are running away from Trump.
In 2016, Talbot didn't support Hilary Clinton, but she wasn't sure about Trump either. In the end, she was so busy running the election in Ware, she never had a chance to vote. But this year, she says that she will vote for Biden because she's had it with Trump.
"I think there were a lot of false promises that were made, manufacturing being one of them," Talbot says. "And making America strong again. We can only make America strong with strong leadership, and I really don't think that happened after his election."
Talbot says she's more motivated to vote against Trump than for Biden. That's a common sentiment according to recent polls, suggesting Biden is well ahead in the horse race, but that Trump supporters are much more enthusiastic about their candidate. That poses a challenge for Biden, according to market researcher Diane Hessan.
"Can Biden generate enough enthusiasm to make his poll numbers come true?" she asks.
Hessan has been talking to a panel of 500 voters for the past three and a half years, which she has outlined in op-ed pieces for The Boston Globe, and sees evidence of that enthusiasm gap between Trump and Biden supporters.
"The question is going to be, what are you willing to sacrifice in order to get to the polls, and I think that's going to be a total jump ball," she says.
In other words, turnout is key. But during a pandemic, enthusiasm could have a lot do do with who actually turns out to vote, no matter what the polls say now.
This segment aired on July 24, 2020.
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