ERIE, Pa. — Four years ago, Gary Kaminski believed America needed a change — something unexpected or different from the political norm to shake up Washington.
He came to realize he got exactly what he wished for with President Donald Trump, but not the way he wanted.
Kaminski, 31, a Democrat who lives in Erie County, Pennsylvania, did his part to reverse his earlier decision by voting against Trump, like many others across the state that proved pivotal in electing former Vice President Joe Biden, according to an NBC News projection.
Erie County, in the most northwestern part of Pennsylvania, which borders Lake Erie, was part of the statewide turn back to the Democrats after it supported Trump over Hillary Clinton in the last presidential election.
“It’s a vote against Trump. I think four more years of Trump would lead to an even more divided America. With Biden, there’s just a better chance of things calming down. He doesn’t speak with the same tone. Maybe it won’t be the same unity that everybody hopes for, but people may be nicer,” Kaminski said.
“Trump was advertised as an outsider. He wasn’t a lifelong Democrat like Clinton. Most people view all politicians as corrupt and the whole system as corrupt, and he was anti-establishment, and that’s how he billed himself,” he said.
Biden, a Scranton native, made Pennsylvania a key component of his strategy, visiting the state 14 times in a hotly contested battle for the state with Trump. He repeatedly said rebuilding the Democrats “blue wall” of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan was integral to his chances of victory.
Residents describe Erie as a diverse, blue-collar, working-class county where people look forward to time at the beach and fishing at the surrounding lakes.
Some say they supported former President Barack Obama during his eight years in office but wanted more jobs to be created locally after decades of losses.
With Trump’s having a business background, some figured he could bring employment back.
Erie is somewhat depressed because several factories closed over the last few decades, so many thought Trump would make the economy better, Kaminski said.
“Jobs are better here, but it’s because of local business professionals,” he said.
Trump has his supporters.
In September 2016, the unemployment rate was 6.7 percent, while it increased to 8.8 percent four years later, according to the state Department of Labor & Industry.
First-time Republican voter Jeff Palumbo contends that Trump did well with the economy nationally.
Palumbo said he never cared about politics until watching how “the fake news used the coronavirus as a weapon,” which he said he believes aided Biden.
“I got interested” in politics, said Palumbo, 48, of Mill Creek. “The media is biased, and a lot of people are falling for it. I don’t have faith in the votes themselves, and they’re not being counted fairly. The mail-in voting seems really fraudulent. That’s my opinion.”
That line is similar to the baseless charges of voter fraud that Trump has been repeating since Tuesday.
Trump’s defiant approach may have been what got him elected the first time, but it contributed to his defeat this time.
“His message and bravado drew a lot of people in, and a lot of people believed in him. He wasn’t a politician. He told it how it was, and people wanted to see something different for the face of the country,” said Ty Brewington, 53, a Democrat who voted for Biden. “But after four years of him complaining … everything became a problem, and people began falling away from him.”
Local government officials were also making it their business to ensure that the county flipped back to blue.
Jim Wertz, who became chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party in 2018, said his staff made several efforts to be more accessible, including opening two additional rural offices after Trump’s 2016 victory.
“Clinton supporters felt like they were on an island four years ago,” Wertz said. “People are tired of the chaos and stagnant job growth. I think that was a major factor.”
Many of the locomotive and manufacturing jobs were negatively affected by Trump’s trade war with China, he added.
But in other pockets of the western part of the state, Trump maintained strong support, winning by similar margins to four years ago.
“Trump put this country back into shape where it’s supposed to be instead of giving all of our jobs to China,” said Floyd Miller, 62, a longtime Democrat from Butler County who voted for Trump. “He put more people back to work than Obama and Biden did in eight years. Before this pandemic, the country was coming back.”
Butler County Democrat Claire Lutz, 19, who backed Biden, said her family’s debate over the election has often left her in tears, as she cares about social justice but her parents are more focused on the economy and taxes.
In Pittsburgh, in Allegheny County, the contentious election brought strife to Democrat Brendan Miller, 34, who voted for Biden.
He said he is contemplating moving with his wife to a more liberal state and excommunicating most of his other family.
“I would, absolutely, at this point. It’s beyond politics,” he said. “I’m voting on ethics. People are getting more ignorant, and they’re proud of it.”
Brent Fulton, 74, is a Republican Trump supporter in Allegheny County. Despite how Trump behaves, “I support what he’s doing,” Fulton said. “He gets things done. I don’t agree with his presentation and how he says things.”
Back in Erie County, Kaminski admitted that he initially found the deal-making, tough-talking Trump appealing as a presidential candidate who represented a different leadership style and a person not connected to Congress.
But he stood by his decision to support the Democratic Party once again.
After Trump took office, “there were probably a dozen things that made me change my opinion of him, such as not denouncing the actions of the ‘alt-right.’ And most recently with the coronavirus. I think he feels he can say whatever he wants. When he addresses the nation, it wasn’t comforting or presidential,” Kaminski said.