ALIQUIPPA, Pa. — Drive through this sleepy town and you’ll see rows of shuttered homes and the carcasses of buildings where molten metal once flowed. Stop by Babich’s Family Restaurant and you’ll find supporters of Donald Trump.
Joshua Carr, 35, is one of them. He’s the owner. Black T-shirt and a backward cap, raising a young family with his wife. Craving not just change but the kind of radical change that Trump offers.
“The world is all screwed up. The big J and L” — the former Jones & Laughlin steel complex along the Ohio River — “is gone.” So is most everything else around here, he said. The people. The jobs.
“Put in Trump,” he said, “and we’ll win again.”
Carr, a Democrat who voted for President Obama, was the first person encountered during a road trip late last week that began in western Pennsylvania and ended 350 miles to the east in a prosperous Philadelphia suburb — and he reflected both the promise and peril facing the Republican presidential nominee in this battleground state in the race’s final sprint.
Although Trump has electrified white working-class people across the spectrum who are eager for volatile transformation, those voters are far from the entirety of an increasingly diverse electorate where Trump-style change is as feared in the cities and suburbs as it is embraced in the countryside.
Trump’s chances Tuesday are likely to hinge on whether there are enough voters in states like Pennsylvania, which last sided with a Republican in 1988 and where Trump has poured energy, who are willing to abandon their usual voting patterns in favor of disruption.
The journey through Pennsylvania revealed that while Trump signs dot countless lawns throughout the industrial region, they do so progressively less as you move east, as if Trump’s support were a fading red swath on the map. Cities such as Pittsburgh and many suburbs are still strongholds for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who has been ahead in polls all year and remains narrowly so in the final days of the election.
For Trump — who rallied Sunday in Moon, Pa., near Pittsburgh and plans to be in Scranton on Monday — the hurdle remains wary voters, including moderates in his own party, who see his rowdy populism as an unwelcome upending of American life.
Clinton’s challenge is one of turnout. The demographics and organization favor her in vote-rich areas like Philadelphia, where she will appear Monday night with President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and former president Bill Clinton. But the appetite for change elsewhere does not.
Sitting across Babich’s is Phil Patton, 69. A Vietnam veteran, he graduated from the nearby high school with the brother of Mike Ditka, the legendary football coach who hails from here and is part of the town’s mythology.
“Always been the home of champions,” Patton said. “It’s the way we were all brought up.”
But Patton said Aliquippa has changed, and so has he. This year the longtime Democrat will vote for Trump: “He’s a nut and he runs his mouth. He’s not honest. But if not him, the country might as well fold up. It’s over.”
Tucking into their breakfasts, John Rita and Bill Battisti were similarly bleak but do not back Trump. Both 76-year-old Democrats, they have seen men like Trump throughout their lives and “we see right through him,” Rita said.
“He says he’s going to bring the steel mills back. Doesn’t he understand they’re gone?” Rita asked. “There’s grass there now. What’s he going to do? Throw some seeds down and the mills will grow?”
The men recalled that when they were in high school, they got recruited by manufacturing companies “before we even graduated,” Battisti said. “They wanted you that quickly.”
“It’s never like that nowadays,” Rita said. “I keep getting calls for contracting jobs because the younger people don’t get trained or they can’t pass the piss test.”
Their waitress — Trish Mihalik, 52 — has three sons working with her husband down the road at Smiley’s Tire. She said they’re doing fine but it’s not easy. Her family, which is Pentecostal Christian, is praying for Trump.
“Look around Aliquippa. It’s dead,” she said. “There’s nothing. I’ve put it all in God’s hands.”
Twenty miles southeast and in the shadow of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ gleaming baseball stadium is a Giant Eagle grocery store on the city’s North Side. A light rain drizzles as a predominantly African American crowd makes its way through the parking lot. The only signs for blocks are baby-blue banners.
“That’s Clinton blue,” Katie Hicks, 60, said. She said this city, along with Philadelphia, is Clinton’s base and the reason Democrats should expect to carry Pennsylvania.
“Before I retired, I had a good job at the Heinz factory — put the ketchup into packets. Started in ’77, benefits and Blue Cross, you name it,” Hicks said. “That was then. It was a good job. But hey, let’s not call it the glory days.”
“I don’t want to go back to the old Pittsburgh. All of that coal, the polluted air and rivers,” she said, not to mention tense race relations. “That’s why I’m for Hillary.”
Smoking a cigarette near the shopping carts is George Crawford, 37, who lost his job recently as a busser at a restaurant downtown. He’s living in a halfway house and said men like Trump “don’t have any idea about my life.”
“I was supposedly let go because someone didn’t like the way I said something. Crazy,” Crawford said.
He glanced away. “The Trump wall isn’t going to give me a job. Donald Trump doesn’t make it better.”
Dwayne Ellis, 42, agreed. The handyman predicted a “civil war” if Trump wins, caused by Trump cutting social spending levels and by anger over economic stagnation.
“Imagine, he gets in after making all of these promises and doesn’t keep them? There’s your war,” he said. “Hillary has her mind set right. She’ll make things happen.”
There they are, the embodiment of Trump Country in Pennsylvania: Angelo Donia, Todd Menser and Carl Kennell. The three friends are mingling and cracking jokes outside the Paint Chop, a custom-paint shop on a leafy street in Somerset, off Exit 110 of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Trump-Pence signs neatly line the curb.
They’re conservative Republicans who work with their hands. They’re convinced that Clinton is corrupt. They insist that the national media cannot be trusted. And if a traditional Republican had been nominated, they said they may not have voted.
“It ain’t working with the people in there, that’s for damn sure. The whole system is sick and it’s getting worse,” said Menser, a burly 65-year-old plumber with a thick white beard. “The working man is tired of taking a beating.”
Donia, 53, is furious about the Clintons’ wealth: “How do you come out of these government jobs and make millions and millions of dollars for giving speeches? It’s criminal.
“So while they make their millions, the little guy here is getting choked,” he added. “You can’t live on minimum wage unless you’re getting assistance.”
Somerset has rebellious anti-tax roots that trace to its role in the Whiskey Rebellion. It’s also near Shanksville, where Flight 93 crashed during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Menser was there that day: “I was a fireman and worked out at the morgue. You don’t forget that, the smell. You don’t forget what you see.”
One by one, each of them said they support Trump’s proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country.
“I don’t want to see the Muslim flag flying at the White House,” Kennell said. “I know no one likes to hear that but it’s coming. In fact, it’s almost here.”
This bustling borough in central Pennsylvania generally tilts right. The local GOP congressman, Lou Barletta, is nationally known for his advocacy of hard-line immigration policies. Farms around here have Trump-Pence logos painted on barn doors.
But there are pockets of blue in the exurbs of Harrisburg, the state capital. As you travel east in the state, people seem more open to government, which is a major employer, and happier about the way their lives are going.
Sue Walker, 55, the owner of Jaymee Lee’s Diner in the adjacent hamlet of Newville, counts herself as a proud Democrat.
When the man who lives on the second floor above her restaurant put up homemade posters that read “Trump dug his hole now we bury him” and “Our new president Hillary Clinton,” Walker didn’t ask him to take them down.
“Oh, customers grumbled,” she said as pots of steaming coffee whizzed by and the Diet Pepsi nozzle filled up glasses. “I had a guy who lectured me for a freaking hour. He got teary eyed as he talked about Donald Trump and put him in the same sentence as Jesus. I mean, really?”
Walker said the pro-Clinton paraphernalia hasn’t been a problem for business, either.
“Does it look like we’re hurting?” she asked, gesturing to the packed restaurant.
Walker said she and many women she knows find Trump “disgusting.”
“Every woman has known men like Donald Trump. It’s nauseating and obnoxious and we’ve had enough.”
“Being a woman, though, isn’t why I’m with her,” Walker said pointedly. “I’m with her because she has the experience. She wouldn’t start fighting with everyone.”
If you’re an upper-middle-class Republican who is uneasy about Trump, you can find refuge at the Starbucks on State Street, where lawyers and corporate professionals pick up iced lattes on their way to office parks.
Matt Benchener, 30, is in gym clothes and hunched over his laptop. A soft-spoken Wharton graduate, he works for a financial services company.
Benchener describes himself as fiscally conservative, a foreign-policy hawk and “fairly socially progressive.” These days, however, he’s mostly pained. Same with his wife, with whom he has two children younger than 5.
“Maybe we’ll have to go third party,” he said. “I keep thinking if [House Speaker] Paul Ryan had run this year, that would’ve been very appealing.”
JoAnn Snow, 65, a Democrat and retired saleswoman, says she doesn’t believe that the Republicans here are as anti-Trump as they say.
“I’m worried all the time,” Snow said as she waits for a friend. “I see more and more Trump signs. I know Clinton supporters are subtler, but it bothers me. Not too long ago I was so confident. Now I’m scared. If he wins, I will cry for days.”
Michael Roytman, 45, said Snow could be right. In private, most of the suburban Republicans this conservative knows fume about the way the federal government and their children’s schools are managed.
“Mediocrity is too often becoming acceptable” said Roytman, a compliance specialist who immigrated from the then Soviet Union in 1991.
Emily Edelson, 46, a staunch Democrat and office manager, said she understands aspects of those frothing frustrations but wonders if they’re “a little over the top.”
“The country is actually better off than it gets credit for,” she said. “It’s not this dire, awful place.”
In Pennsylvania, the answer tends to depend on where you are.