CANTON, Ohio—Attendees of the 169-year-old Stark County Fair in Ohio don’t come out to see politicians, and politics aren’t on the forefront of their minds, but a large portion of the folks here had strong opinions on both when asked.
The political climate of Stark County, known for its rural, farming areas and also home to the Pro Football Hall of Fame housed in Canton, has flipped in recent years.
In the 2008 presidential race, then-Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois won 51.59 percent of the vote in Stark County and his Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, won 46.14 percent. Obama won the county again in 2012 with 49.21 percent of the vote, inching past Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who had 48.74 percent.
Some cities in Stark County such as Alliance, Massillon, Canton Township, East Canton, Navarre, and Perry Township all went for Obama in 2008 and 2012.
These cities flipped to Trump in 2016 and support for the president was strong among the attendees roaming around the fairgrounds.
While harness racing, baking contests, and pavilion concerts were vastly more popular than any politician who stepped on the premises in Canton, the young and old who shared in their thoughts on the 45th president and their own political journeys had a lot to say.
- ‘I’m a Conservative Democrat and a Liberal Republican’
Fred O. Davis, a Stark County resident who has been attending the fair for 70 years, considers himself to be out of the box politically.
“I’m a conservative Democrat and a liberal Republican,” Davis told The Daily Signal in an interview Tuesday at the Stark County Fair, saying that he gets his fair share of of pushback from folks who don’t understand his conservative-leaning views.
“The backlash I get from is liberal Democrats,” Davis said. “They think I’m crazy.”
His family, however, is starting to see his fascination with conservatism, Davis said.
My brother, he’s liberal … But he’s changing. He’s understanding. I said, ‘Well, Trump’s doing what he got elected for.’ And he is. He’s one of the very few presidents went in there and did what he said he was going to do.
Obama didn’t even like this country. And maybe he still doesn’t. I don’t know.
He said that he is frustrated by policies of Obama that have been continued in Trump’s administration.
“We got too many people on welfare,” Davis said. “If you want to go on welfare, and you’re willing to do some work, fine … but we don’t need it at the limits it’s at now, and that’s what Obamacare is.”
“And if Obama … had gotten all of these people on welfare he wanted, then they’d be dependent on, it’d be a communist country,” he added.
The 77-year-old said he thinks the county needs to return to more traditional and socially conservative values, including re-defining marriage as being between a man and a woman as well. He’s also concerned that rights for people who identify as LGBT are superseding other’s rights.
“Don’t get me wrong, they should be treated equally, but equally,” Davis said. “Not overly-equally.”
Davis said he is also frustrated with the media’s coverage of Trump, which almost prompted him to cancel his subscription to the local newspaper.
The “Canton Repository, I almost canceled it for some of the things in it,” he said. “It’s terrible the way they’re covering. They don’t even say the good things he does, they only say all the bad things he does. I mean, the bad things in their opinion.”
- ‘My Parents Were Strict Democrats. But Now I’m Republican.’
Ruth French, who attends the fair every year with daughter Susan Kaw, said she switched her party from Democrat to Republican in 2008 because she couldn’t stand by how Obama was running the country.
“I positively did not approve of Obama, Mr. Obama,” French said, adding, “My parents were strict Democrats. But now I’m Republican.”
The 86-year-old Stark County resident said she is disheartened by the media’s treatment of Trump.
“I thoroughly support President Trump,” she said. “I believe that the news media needs to give us a break … I thank God that he is in control. That is the big thing in my life. God runs me.”
She also said she is frustrated by the coverage the media has given to recent school shootings.
“They build it up and build it [up]… all these shootings,” French said. “If they would not publicize it [and] show the people’s pictures that did it. Sympathize, grieve for those people that are shot or killed or however. But drop it. Don’t keep it in the public and get these young kids especially, ‘Oh, look, that looks cool. I’ll go do that, too.’”
Sometimes, French said, she will align with and support Democrats, but said she 100 percent stands behind Trump.
“My mother, like I said, was a strict Democrat, but she voted who she thought was a good party person … and I do the same, ’cause there’s Democrats I will vote for,” French said. “I definitely, I’m a Trump person.”
- ‘I Just Wish People Would Be a Little Bit Kinder to the President’
French’s daughter, Susan Kaw, said she thinks the media’s coverage of Trump has been unfair.
“I just wish people would be a little bit kinder to the president, and support him a little bit, and give him a chance,” Kaw said. “He’s done a lot already, but help him out a little instead of fighting everything he does, and give him a little help and support.”
Kaw, who has been coming with her mom each year since grade school to walk the grounds while children are in school, said she wants to see Trump’s wall on the U.S.-Mexico border built.
“Sounds cliché, but I’d like to see the wall built,” Kaw said, adding:
I have no problem with immigrants if they come here legally, and do what they need to do, but all these ones … are coming in, and we’re supporting them. It has nothing to do with coming here to get better jobs. It has to do with coming here to get our welfare, and food, and medical, and ship a lot of the money back to Mexico. So, I’d like to see that done, and better immigration laws.
Kaw, who said she had a “a family full of Democrats and now we’re all Republicans,” is pleased with the Republicans’ tax reform plan, which went into effect Jan. 1.
“I think the tax reform has been good … it’s helped a lot of businesses and a lot of people have got more money in their paychecks, even if Nancy Pelosi says it’s crumbs,” Kaw said.
“It’s not,” she added. “It’s helping a lot of people out, from the bottom all the way to the top.”
- ‘Obama Created a Lot of Divisiveness in Our Country’
Brooke Karmie, a 22-year-old recent college graduate, says she’s seen an economic boom in her town due to Trump’s trade deals.
“I think everything he’s done economically has very noticeably changed our country for the better,” said Karmie, who spent some of her time working the Stark County Republicans’ booth.
“I’ve seen the benefits in my town. So, that’s the president changing local businesses. Especially here in Ohio, steel is coming back. We have a lot of people in the steel industry who are coming back to our state, which is benefiting our economy.”
Karmie, whose grandfather, Frederick Karmie, came to the United States from Syria and went through the immigration process legally, says she is passionate about immigration issues given her grandfather’s experience.
“I know we hear a lot about how it’s wrong of us not to welcome these immigrants,” Karmie said, adding:
But that’s not we’re doing. We are welcoming the immigrants. And Donald Trump is making sure that people have a way to come into our country legally. And making sure that the people who are coming here to be up to no good are not coming, so that the rest of us have opportunities where they’ve been taken from us in the past.
Karmie, who majored in government and foreign affairs at Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio, said she is passionate about legal immigration because she wants America to stay a secure place for citizens as well as immigrants.
“If we allow crime to come into our country, then there’s no safe haven for the immigrants who come the right way,” Karmie said. “So I really respect that he’s taking action on that. And then, just overall how he’s upholding all of his promises that he talked about in the campaign.”
Karmie said she hopes Trump will help mend the divide she says that Obama instigated.
“I think President Obama created a lot of divisiveness in our country with every single policy he enacted,” Karmie said. “So it’s something that’s very hard to undo, because of the way our media is. But I think that Donald Trump is fighting in the right direction against all that divisiveness.”
- Trump ‘Just Doesn’t Seem to Have the Working Family in His Thoughts’
Stevan Pickard, a union member, said he is skeptical of how Trump’s policies like tax reform will play out in the long run.
“We don’t know what is going to happen because of that—because the tax break, of course, that means less money from the government,” Pickard said. “So if that’s less money for the government, which funds do they cut? Do they cut children’s funds, … cut teacher’s funds, that’s what we are worried about is the effects later on.”
The Stark County resident also said he wishes the president wouldn’t use Twitter.
“He needs to stop his tweeting,” he said. “No two ways about it, I have talked to staunch Republicans and they say the same thing. To us, he just doesn’t seem to have the working family in his thoughts. That’s really [the] bottom line.”
- ‘No Matter What [Trump] Does or How Good Stuff Is, They Just Downplay It’
Scott Rinkes, who took his 7-month-old grandson to the fair with his wife Donna, said he is encouraged by Trump’s trade and foreign policy.
“[We support] the fact that he’s keeping everybody in control and getting us better trade deals. The fact that he’s picking up the economy and the stock market,” Scott Rinkes said. “My 401k plan has increased by one-third.”
Rinkes said he is concerned, however, that the country’s lack of support for Trump will end up sparking widespread disagreement.
“It just makes you sick when the opposite side is pushing prejudice and fights and division,” Rinkes said. “This country is headed for a revolt. No matter what he does or how good stuff is, they just downplay it and try to divide us and turn us against him.”
The Stark County resident also said he is worried about how the media coverage of Trump could damage the president’s potential success.
“It’s just worse since Trump came out and called them out and got in a fight with them,” he said. “Now it’s who’s going to die first? Is he going to kill the news or is the news going to kill his political chances?”
- ‘Never Seen a President Cut Down So Badly by the Press in All My Life’
Becky Sheen of Stark County told The Daily Signal that the media’s coverage of presidents has been the most hostile with Trump.
“The news people used to be so respectful. I don’t care who you’re with or who it was, or whether you voted or not. People would be respectful,” Sheen said. “Everybody in America would sit around their TV when the president’s on TV. Nowadays people don’t even know what he does. It’s sad. A sad state.”
While Sheen said she isn’t completely sold on the idea of a border wall with Mexico, she said “it’s a start.”
Sheen also said that she would like to see Obamacare ended.
“Get rid of Obamacare,” Sheen said. “I was never for that in the beginning and I’ve seen so much bad come of that.”
I work and have my insurance, but I’ve seen a lot of family members who can’t afford insurance, and they got that and it was crazy. They had to pay twice as much for everything to have anything. And then having to have insurance—yeah, you should. But there’s some people that, let’s face it, just can’t afford it. When insurance companies know you have to have it, they jack all the prices for it. Crazy.
She also said the the media’s coverage of Trump has not been fair.
“Oh my gosh, I’ve never seen a president cut down so badly by the press in all my life,” Sheen said, adding:
Every president has good and every president has bad, but it’s like I haven’t yet seen them tell the good. It’s like they’re just constantly looking for him to do bad, instead of trying to give some credit where credit is due. If he’s wrong and does wrong, I can understand that. But on the same sense, show the good, too, because there’s some out there.
- ‘My Dad, My Brother Are Both Republicans Now’
Nathan Moore, a recent graduate of Perry High School in Massillon, Ohio, who was helping work Stark County Republicans’ booth at the fair, said ending Obamacare is a major issue for him.
“I know my grandpa, he’s always been a Democrat, but a whole lot of people lost their insurance and had to do that wait period until they get into Obamacare,” Moore said. “It just took entirely too long, and they’re a lot of money in debt.”
Moore also says he sees a distinct difference between how the media covered Obama and how they cover Trump.
“I think it’s been biased. I mean, you look at some of the coverage for Obama in his first term, and it was extremely like, ‘Hey, good for you, great,’” Moore said of the media coverage of Obama. “Nothing bad. Then Trump comes in, and it’s been kind of, ‘Hey, …he’s horrible, don’t listen to him.’”
The 18-year-old said he tried to communicate his conservative convictions by making light of politics and having serious discussions when appropriate.
It appears to be having some influence, as he said his dad and brother have switched their party from Democrat to Republican.
“If you’re like me and my family, we’re very sarcastic and we joke a lot,” Moore said. “So I would just say make a game out of it. Make jokes about it, if you can, just try to have a serious discussion about it every once in a while to make something happen. Ever since we started joking and talking about it and stuff, my dad, my brother are both Republicans now.”