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David Kenny

An Irish view of a Swing State 'Trump supporters think they're going to shock the world'

David Kenny gives a snapshot from the swing state of Virginia where there is “a lot of enthusiasm for a Donald Trump presidency”.

IN SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA, where I currently live, there is a lot of enthusiasm for a Donald Trump presidency.

At a recent county fair, the local Republican party branch brought 250 bumper stickers to hand out, and were shocked to run out before lunchtime.

Hundreds of local supporters are on a waiting list to receive a ‘Trump Pence’ lawn sign. These signs are already visible on almost every street in the county.

Capitalising on this grassroots support is crucial for the Trump campaign.

I spoke with someone deeply involved with the effort to win Virginia for Trump: a Unit Chair of the Republican Party in western Virginia, who is orchestrating local campaigning efforts, and has a long history in Virginia politics.

I also spoke to several Trump volunteers in the area.

Campaign 2016 Trump Phil Capron of Virginia Beach stands for the national anthem before the start of a town hall with Trump last month. Evan Vucci Evan Vucci

The outcome of the Virginia vote could be crucial to the election. Even with a recent surge in many polls, Donald Trump faces an uphill struggle for the White House.

For him to win, he has to win over a major state that is currently leaning towards Hilary, such as Pennsylvania or Virginia.

Hillary Clinton still has the advantage in Virginia, but the margin has narrowed: recent polls show that she leads Trump by about 7 points amongst likely voters.

The Trump campaign and the Republican Party are working hard to close this gap.

Millions of dollars have been spent on TV advertisements. Last Saturday, Trump himself arrived in Roanoke, a city in southwest Virginia, and held a packed rally in a 10,000-seat stadium.

But this is only a small part of the effort, and the real work is being done in the “ground game” of local political organisation.

The Trump campaign has put a lot of new money into the local campaign in Virginia in recent weeks. Many new local Trump offices have been opened across the State.

Dozens of new local staff members have been hired by the campaign.

There has been a huge grassroots push, reaching out personally to voters that might not traditionally vote.

Advertising and rallies are important, but the Unit Chair says “voter-to-voter contact is the most essential part of it”.

Armies of Trump volunteers are knocking on doors all over southwest Virginia.

At nearby phone banks, thousands of calls are placed to voters. Computer models help the campaign to target these efforts towards those who might be open to voting for Trump.

If you have your door knocked on by campaigners, direct mail leaflets and phone calls will follow shortly afterwards to try to secure your support.

VA GOP State Convention Virginia State Republican Convention in Harrisonburg last April AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Virginia has many white, blue-collar voters, the constituency that Trump has counted on for his core support, and they are mostly located in the south and southwest of the State.

Trump needs a strong turnout of new voters in this area to offset Northern Virginia, which includes suburbs of Washington DC that will vote for Hillary in large numbers.

Based on their own experience, local campaigners feel they are succeeding.

One volunteer told me of meeting a voter in his 60s who had never voted before, but was registering in order to vote for Trump. Almost all the campaigners I spoke to have a similar story of first time voters loving Trump.

These local campaigners alone have helped to register hundreds of new voters.

The Republican Unit Chair agrees that Trump has special appeal: “The blue collar demographic in particular, people who we’ve never had vote for Republicans before, who haven’t typically been involved, are suddenly on fire for the guy.”

He has been campaigning in Virginia for decades, but he has “never seen anything like this”.

Asked what reasons these new voters gave for supporting Trump, he said:

People are angry about the state of the economy. They are angry about the border situation… People want a change in direction.

He also feels that debates such as last Monday’s, though perhaps important nationally, won’t make much of a difference amongst voters here, who are devoted to Trump.

At the same time, the Republican Party is trying to keep more traditional Republican voters – who may be more ambivalent on the party’s highly controversial nominee – on side.

They are doing this by focussing less on Trump than on his opponent. At a stall at the recent County Fair, passers-by were invited to sign a ‘Pledge to Stop Hillary’.

This flier, paid for by the Republican National Committee, does not mention Trump’s name.

Another strategy, a volunteer told me, was to stress that the next President will determine the ideological balance on the Supreme Court.

This could affect many issues, from abortion and religious freedom to the powers of the federal government.

A Clinton nominee, they remind reticent Republicans, would be unlikely to share their values.

It is far from clear that this effort will be enough. In the north of Virginia, you can be sure Clinton’s team playing are playing the same game: doing all they can to bring their own voters out and persuade people to Stop Trump.

But Trump campaigners in the southwest of the State are confident. They think new voters here will swing the Virginia his way. Several people suggested that the polls, which usually canvas likely voters, would not account for these unlikely voters.

The Unit Chairman told me: “If the current trend continues, we’re going to shock the world.”

David Kenny is an assistant professor of law at Trinity College Dublin. He is currently a visiting scholar at Washington and Lee University in Virginia.

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