From ‘Trump all the way’ to ‘Democrat all my life’: Northampton County is divided

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Two polls of the Lehigh University community conducted by The Brown and White this semester show strong support for Democratic nominee Joe Biden over President Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

But leave the confines of campus life and drive into more rural sections of Northampton County, marked by winding roads and more space between homes, and the reason why the county is known as a bellwether becomes clear.

The political climate quickly changes.

“Trump all the way,” said Richard Buskirk, age 68, standing outside his Belfast, Pennsylvania, home.

A woman stands with a Pennsylvania for Trump flag at President Donald Trump’s recent rally in Northampton County on Oct. 26. (Emma Satin/B&W Staff)

Buskirk is a registered Republican who has voted red in every presidential election since 1976. He said he “doesn’t understand” and “can’t get his arms around” why anyone would support Democratic policies. He’ll be voting in-person at the polls on Tuesday.

One issue on his mind this election is immigration. 

“Legal immigration is appropriate, we all came from somewhere,” Buskirk said. “But there has to be guidelines.”

Anthony Bush, 37, is from Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Bush, who works in landscaping, isn’t registered to vote — but will be rooting for Trump nonetheless. 

He said he doesn’t always get behind Trump’s attitude or behavior, but that that doesn’t mean he’s not good for the country.

“Trump’s what we needed — someone who is business savvy,” Bush said. “He may be arrogant, chauvinist, racist, according to the allegations, but he’s getting the job done. The character of the person should matter. Trump’s election might have been irresponsible, but it’s what we needed.”

On Bush’s mind this election is property taxes and school funding. 

Bush lost his great-aunt to COVID-19. He said the pandemic is a “tragedy.”

“We lost a great amount,” Bush said. “It sucks — it killed our economy, which was not Trump’s fault.”

Kim Rodriguez, however, a middle-aged woman from Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, in neighboring Monroe County, said the COVID-19 shut down is a “bunch of crap.”

She will be voting in her first election on Nov. 3. And she’ll be pulling the lever for Trump.

“(Elections) didn’t matter to me before,” Rodriguez said. “With Trump, I never liked him as a person, but I think he did a great job these past four years.”

Rodriguez, a pharmacy technician, said she thinks the economy has been doing well under Trump and that her 401(k) is up. Also on her mind this election is the “riots” in response to police brutality, Trump’s work for the military and veterans and his efforts to lower drug prices. 

Woody Knecht, a Biden supporter, has lived at his Belfast, Pennsylvania, home in Northampton County since 1968. He is a Democrat, but predicts the county will support President Donald Trump this election. (Jordan Wolman/B&W Staff)

Just down the road from Buskirk in Belfast, though, is Woody Knecht. It’s not hard to pick Knecht’s house out: His lawn and porch are decorated with signs supporting Democrats up and down the ballot, from Biden to Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.), who represents the Lehigh Valley in Congress, to Tara Zrinski, a candidate for Pennsylvania’s 138th House District.

Knecht knows the area well: He’s lived in his same house, just down the road from Jacobsburg State Park, since 1968. And he’s been a Democrat all his life.

But Knecht said he’s surrounded by Republicans in his neighborhood and predicts Northampton County will stay in Trump’s column in 2020 in a state that’s bound to play a critical role in determining the outcome of the election.

“Trump doesn’t do anything right,” said Knecht, who voted by mail last week. “I can’t believe we have this many stupid people in this country (to elect Trump).”

Knecht, who worked union jobs at Bethlehem Steel and 1174 Labor Local in Allentown before he retired, feels that Republicans are “against unions” and that when unions go down, wages go down, too.

“The tax cut went to the rich,” Knecht said of the tax cut spearheaded by Trump that he signed into law in 2017. “It helped the economy, but billionaires didn’t need it.” 

Back down the street in Belfast, though, Buskirk said Trump’s behavior won’t change his vote. 

“Alpha males always behave their own way,” Buskirk said. “I don’t begrudge him for anything he does.”

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