West Virginia – one of the poorest states in America and home to some of the most loyal Donald Trump supporters in the country.
While Republican strongholds such as Arizona, Georgia and Texas have begun to falter in their support for the outspoken presidential nominee, West Virginia is seemingly the last remaining red state where support for Donald Trump is not beginning to dwindle.
Here, in the heart of Appalachian coal mining country, the Republican candidate remains popular among a population where unemployment and desperation is rife.
Thousands of miners lost their jobs during Barack Obama’s presidency. One of the worst hit towns was Fairmont, in Marion County, where average annual income is less that thirteen thousand dollars per year.
Here, euronews met with Barry Bledsoe, a Republican candidate for a seat in the State Senate, who explained how Trump became the people’s hero.
“Trump had a rally in Charleston which I attended, and there were a lot of coal miners in the audience. You could tell they were coal miners by their hard hats that they wore,” he explained.
“He told these miners ‘I see alot of miners around’ and they cheered and he said “I wanna tell you somethin’. He said ‘When I get elected, you get your buckets ready because I’m puttin’ your asses back to work’. And they about took the roof off that place with applause and cheers.”
The rise of Trump
Trump was initially thought of as a less-than-serious candidate, but increasingly over the course of the campaign, the idea of President Donald doesn’t fall foul on many voters’ ears.
Ernie Vangilder. Republican County Commissioner for Marion County said: “If you asked me if he was my candidate of choice in the primary, I will tell you no. But if you asked me if he is my choice today, I would say absolutely, considering the alternative.
“Let’s get businessmen in the government and let’s get government out of business,” he continued.
While the billionaire real-estate mogul could find himself at risk of ostracizing poorer voters, in West Virginia – where unemployment has been consistently above the national average since the financial crash – his fortune is not an issue.
Phil Mallow, a Republican State House of Delegates candidate said that Trump’s wealth aids his cause rather than hinders it.
“If someone that is a billionaire and he is willing to come in and leave that comfortable life, and take one unbelievable task for our benefit, that resonates with people,” Mallow said.
“They want that. They are not talking about people that want to build up a lot of money and then leave. He is talking about ‘Here’s what I’ll do for you.’ I think folks relate to that.”
The ‘lesser of two evils’
The overwhelming consensus among much of America’s electorate is to vote for one candidate in order to avoid the other.
While to many Trump seems like a worst case scenario, his opponent Hillary Clinton isn’t particularly popular herself.
One voter said that she was going with “None of the above,” saying: “We don’t like Hillary, Trump would be okay.”
Another said: “The truth is I don’t want to vote for anyone, but he is the lesser of two evils. And I’m kinda upset, because if that’s the best the United States has to offer, we’re in trouble.”
Democrats hanging by a thread
Local Democratic Headquarters in Fairmont aren’t exactly overwhelmed with supporters. When we pay them a visit, not a single Clinton voter drops by.
Democratic Party official James Tate spends much of his time on the phone, trying to rally support for the Democrats. But in a state where coal is the only Campaign issue, the prospect of a Democratic win in West Virginia appears increasingly unlikely.
“Most of the people [in West Virginia] are one hundred percent coal,” he said. “Whether they work in the mines or not, that’s it. It’s hard for them to let go, it’s hard for them to realize that coal is on its way out.”
Clinton all but sealed her electoral fate in West Virginia when she vowed to put coal mines out of business.
While she did promise environmentally friendly employment opportunities for miners, in a state where workers feel abused by almost a decade of Democratic environmental policy, such pledges were a huge blow to her West Virginia campaign.
Carroll Boherty of the Pew Research Center told said: “[West Virginia] was a Democratic state and it has gradually become a Republican state in part because of Democratic stances like the environment, gun control.
“It’s overwhelmingly white. These non-college white voters who are very important, but are a declining share of the overall electorate. They are becoming a more important factor in Republican politics. And this is the base that Donald Trump draws from.”
The Democratic Party in recent elections has shifted its campaign focus towards America’s educated, urban and liberal population.
None of these attributes fit the population of West Virginia.
Here, voters feel increasingly abandoned by the Democrats and whether out of desperation or discontent they have begun to turn to Trump.