ALGONAC, Mich. (Reuters) - Back in April, there were already early signs in this quiet Michigan town of the rural American discontent that helped propel Donald Trump to election victory, even if it was underestimated by the Washington establishment, pollsters and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
On a return visit after Tuesday’s election, Reuters found that many of Algonac’s 4,000 residents were jubilant that Trump had captured the White House, although there were also echoes of what some people said seven months ago: that he is an uncertain, high-stakes gamble.
But the bare fact of his success drew only shrugs: Who else did city folks really expect would win?
Reuters first visited this town on a bend of the St. Clair River in April after results from the Republican and Democratic parties' primary elections suggested it might be a hotbed of the dissatisfaction with the status quo that would become a dominant force by November. (reut.rs/2fAVJQY)
It was a town in a county in a state that all disproportionately turned out in the primaries for the unexpected outsider candidates: the Republican Trump, a rich real-estate developer and television star who had never held political office; and democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont who had emerged as Clinton’s closest rival for the Democratic Party nomination.
Trump went on to win his party’s nomination, while Sanders was beaten by Clinton.
Even though they came at the problem from very different perspectives, both men had fired up a town that was in a sour mood, striking a chord with their talk of a rigged economic system and their loud disgust at the decline of American manufacturing.
Algonac leans Republican, and, on both visits, it took no time at all to find Trump fans, and only a little longer to find Sanders fans. But it took days of asking around to find someone with a warm word for Clinton. On Tuesday, the vote in Algonac was 68 percent for Trump, 27 percent for Clinton.
Residents of Algonac can easily list the relatives and neighbors who have struggled with the painful decline of manufacturing or who were forced to move after auto factories with well paid union jobs an hour away in the Detroit area shut down or moved abroad.
Older residents recall decades back when Algonac was still a proud self-sufficient manufacturing hub, employing scores of locals at the Chris-Craft factory, which turned out photogenic wooden boats that remain prized by wealthy collectors.
Pete Beauregard has turned the factory into a harbor club where the town’s summer visitors stow their boats.
“The rural area is going to want to be heard,” he said, delighting in Trump’s victory.
Up the road, Jay DeBoyer was in a dive bar he had worked in as a younger man, drinking an afternoon glass of water and dressed in a suit he had worn to deliver St. Clair County’s final elections results to the courthouse in his role as county clerk.
“The center of the country is what put Donald Trump in office,” he said.
“If the economy’s okay, they shut their mouths and go to work,” he said, describing the sort of people who live in places like Algonac, where 97 percent of residents are white.
“But if you start to smack them, when you start telling the guys working in a coal mine in West Virginia, ‘For the good of the country, we’re going to put you out of a job, for the good of cleaner air we’re going to put you out of a job,’ then you start to create a constituency of people that fall into a category of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend.’”
Mentioning Clinton, a former secretary of state, U.S. senator and first lady, tended to draw scorn among Algonac residents in April, even among some Democrats who said they viewed her as untrustworthy.
Her election loss and emotional concession speech this week appeared not to soften this, with some expressing their ill-feeling in crude terms.
“Trump That Bitch,” reads a tall wooden sign alongside the main road into town, evoking a familiar anti-Clinton slogan among Trump fans.
Seeing it being photographed, Paul Paulus, 73, wandered out from the building where he was regreasing old tractors to boast he had built it entirely himself.
Some of his neighbors, particularly women, had told Reuters on both visits that, even if they disliked Clinton, they despaired at the insults and coarse language that Trump and his fans had reveled in. Paulus described his victory over such qualms.
“They had tried to get the township to take it down,” he said, smiling at the memory of the fight as he looked up at his sign. “But the township said it’s not coming down as ‘bitch’ is not a bad word. It’s a female dog.”
Jan Evans, a devout 64-year-old Christian who runs a store making slogan t-shirts for the local schools’ sports teams, said she thought there were better ways to talk about people. But she sympathized with the sort of anxiety that moved people to support Trump.
She recently learned that her monthly health insurance premiums under Obamacare, a healthcare law that Trump has said he will repeal and replace, would go from $120 to $357. But she worried that Trump’s victory would not help, either; she did not know what his healthcare plans were as he has not given details.
She said that when she voted, she filled out down-ballot lines for local and state elections and left the presidential vote until the end to give her more time to think.
“Neither one really deserved it,” she said of Clinton and Trump. Her pen hovered for quite a while, but she declined to say where on the ballot it landed.
“Everybody, they’re a little bit frightened, they’re hopeful, they know we need change,” she said of Trump’s victory. “But this is the change?”
Editing by Jason Szep and Frances Kerry