STRONGSVILLE, Ohio — Amanda Donnellan, 38, is a lifelong Republican, and this year she has been nervous. After watching the Republican convention this week, however, she is no longer worried about how crass and unconventional Donald Trump is.
His family made the difference.
“Eric was the game-changer,” she said after watching Trump’s son speak Wednesday night about how his father “had changed skylines across the country” and now wanted to devote himself to rebuilding America’s roads and airports. “It was just the way he spoke. He said, ‘My dad is doing this for you.’ ”
Amanda’s husband, Mike Donnellan, 48, while not completely convinced, is also more inclined to vote for Trump after this week’s events here. He had been worried that the convention would descend into “a storm of insults,” but he liked the measured words of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “Last week, I was thinking I would vote for Gary Johnson.” But instead of the Libertarian candidate, he said, “now I would say I am 70-75 percent for Trump.”
Chaos on the convention floor, open party disunity, plagiarism accusations, even boos on the convention floor — this GOP convention has had many messy takeaways.
But ultimately it may achieve its goal: strengthening Trump support in key swing states, such as Ohio.
Judging from hours of conversations at Don’s Pomeroy House, a landmark tavern in the heart of Strongsville, Trump is winning over voters. Some in this city of 45,000 — whose nickname is “the Crossroads of the Nation” — were troubled that their own governor, John Kasich, wouldn’t appear on Trump’s behalf. But they saw other party stalwarts at the convention and liked what they heard from Trump’s pick for vice president, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana.
Above all, three days into the convention, people who had been looking for a reason to feel better about Trump said they found it in his family.
“There are so many kids who don’t have that love and respect for their parents,” said Mary Molitor, 71, a mother of three and a bookkeeper who sat a few stools away from the Donnellans at the Pomeroy, its TV screens tuned to the convention.
This old Midwestern railroad stop is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats and has a huge number of independent voters who lean Republican. It’s precisely the kind of place where Trump needs to win. Mayor Thomas Perciak said he has been talking to many of the most reliable voters, those who play cards and mingle at the senior center near the Pomeroy. Many continue to crave more specifics from Trump — and want the perpetual bashing of Hillary Clinton to stop, he said Thursday morning from the senior center. “They really like Pence. They were impressed with his speech, his Christian qualities.”
Perciak, a Republican, said he believes that “the convention has boosted Trump in several ways, including that he is appearing more presidential and he is coming across as a good father and husband.”
Not everyone at the Pomeroy watching the convention was a Trump fan. Karen Postal, 64, a retired elementary school teacher, leans toward Clinton.
Postal, an independent, sees too much division in the Republican Party — from the state delegates booing on the convention floor to Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas not even endorsing Trump. And, she found it lame that parts of Melania Trump’s speech were identical to Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech. “Isn’t there anyone with a brain looking over this campaign?”
The nonstop criticism of Clinton, particularly by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and the chants of “Lock her up!” are a turnoff for her husband, John Postal, who owns a business that supplies industrial parts. “There is too much hate in this country, and it’s evident in this convention. Hillary — ‘Throw her in jail’? Come on.”
The Postals want to hear more solutions and less screaming. Others who said they usually vote Republican, but not always, said they are weary of Clinton but are waiting to hear what Trump would do to their tax bill. They want more specifics, too, on how he would actually stop illegal immigration.
But many said in the past few days that they are warming to him.
“I do like the fact that I get to see his kids,” said Molitor, the bookkeeper who sat at the tavern’s elegant bar lighted with small shaded lamps. “You don’t see Trump putting his arms around anybody. Now we are seeing a new side. His kids love him.”
Her husband, Bill, said he loved watching Melania and was annoyed that “the media” was criticizing her for plagiarism.
“She reminds me of Jackie Kennedy,” he said.
“She is very pleasant on the eyes,” agreed his wife.
Mary Molitor, a registered Democrat who voted for Ross Perot and Mitt Romney, said she is voting for Trump this year. “When you see his kids talk, there is nothing phony about them. It’s nice to see the closeness of the family.
“I know he doesn’t drink, but I would like to have a beer with him,” she said.
Bill Molitor, 74, who owns a business that measures equipment for cars and planes, said he wholeheartedly likes Trump, whom he calls “a blue-collar billionaire.”
“He brags about being rich, and I love it!” he said.
Sitting a few seats away, Amanda Donnellan said she liked that Tiffany Trump, the candidate’s daughter from his second marriage, spoke at the convention. The Donnellans each have children from their first marriages as well as a 1-year-old together.
Before the convention started in Cleveland, 25 miles north of here, she worried that Trump wasn’t taking the campaign seriously. “He was kind of making it a joke,” she said. But now, she thinks that “he will bring something else to the table than the same, old political thing. We need different, and he is different.”
No one interviewed said they had time to watch all the evening convention speeches. Amanda works at a mortgage underwriter, and her husband is a financial adviser. They have five kids. Some picked the people they wanted to hear and played those clips the next morning online.
As Mike Donnellan ate dinner at the tavern, he looked up at the TV and said that there were oddities and awkward moments but that he finds them more entertaining than important. At one point, when small-businesswomen Michelle Van Etten, in a blue dress that looked like a cape, started talking, he asked: “Who is that? Superwoman?”
Amanda Donnellan said she was looking forward to hearing from Trump’s daughter Ivanka and was surprised that she liked Pence. “I didn’t think he was going to add much, but he had a strength about him. He had a grounded presence.”