If Jefferson County Fair is anything to go by – Hillary Clinton has her work cut out for her this week.
It’s in full swing – pig racing, a demolition derby – hoedown tunes floating through the air from the fiddle competition. Sweltering in a heatwave, this is Grassroots Americana in a rural corner of Pennsylvania. It feels a million miles from Philadelphia across-state where the Democratic convention is underway.
And in a county which went strongly for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the primaries – it has a searing message for Hillary Clinton: we don’t like you and we don’t want you, and even if we do give you our vote, it’s only because you’re the lesser of two evils.
So in a state which hasn’t voted for a Republican president since 1988, and where Hillary Clinton soundly beat Obama in the 2008 presidential primaries – where did it go wrong for her?
In the shade of a cattle barn, I chatted to some farmers and heard a whole host of reasons: trust, character, establishment politics – and – still – the fact she’s a woman.
Farmers Bill and Suzianne Smith are registered Democrats. Suzianne has grappled with her opinion of Hillary over many years – but is coming to the conclusion Clinton can’t be trusted.
Her husband is in no doubt though. Trump has his vote. He doesn’t like Clinton and reckons a female US president would be a disaster – articulating an opinion few are prepared to venture so frankly.
Pity the poor Democrat campaigners then who’ve now got to sell the Hillary ticket in a county full of Trump fans and Bernie-crats. Their tent at the fair has plenty of flags and fliers: but not a single image of Clinton to be seen.
Kerith Taylor is running for the Democrats for Congress – a Bernie backer who saw his vision for working class America as the way to go. But now, like him, she has to fall in behind Hillary – and it’s not easy. On the doorsteps of Jefferson County, she can’t even mention her name.
For women of a certain age in America, Clinton is a long yearned-for bullet for the toughest glass ceiling of all. She polls very well amongst them – in almost unassailable figures for Trump.
But this just hasn’t cut through to the younger generation of women – who are largely enjoying the benefits of the feminist struggle, and don’t see a woman running for president as a big deal. Millennial democrat women backed Bernie Sanders 61-31% over Clinton.
Sam Sears was one of them. She takes a break from singing at the fair to tell us she will now vote for Hillary – but reluctantly. It’s only because she loathes Trump.
There has always been a significant contingent in America with a visceral dislike for Hillary Clinton. But it’s astonishing to reflect that as Secretary of State she had a 66% approval rating – and went into the primaries with every reason to feel confident. And at this stage she is still ahead in the race.
But a perfect storm of personal controversy, voter rage against the establishment – and a Republican challenger who has ripped up the rule book has left Hillary Clinton looking vulnerable in a way few would ever have imagined.
In the hills of Jefferson County – the alarm bells are ringing.
- Julie Etchingham