- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 25, 2016

BETHLEHEM, Pa. | Joe Wilshire never voted in a presidential election, never thought it made a difference, until he cast his ballot for Donald Trump and helped deliver a blow to “the bureaucracy” that he says has been running the U.S. into the ground.

One of the so-called invisible Americans whom Mr. Trump connected with in the Rust Belt, the 36-year-old parcel deliveryman said he felt empowered by his role in swinging Pennsylvania and the presidential election. Now he expects nothing less from Mr. Trump than greatness.

“I feel like my vote meant everything in the world,” Mr. Wilshire said as he handed off a package at a neighborhood bar. “I feel like our voice has been heard. You can’t go around shouting ‘racist’ and ‘bigot’ to silence us and think we won’t come out to vote.”

After putting Pennsylvania in the Republican column for the first time in nearly three decades, working-class voters here said they are excited about the future. But they also said they don’t have blind allegiance to Mr. Trump; they have high expectations — including driving out Washington corruption and ushering in an economic boom.

“He’s got a lot of work to do — and without corruption,” said stay-at-home mother Donna Reffle, 48, a Democrat who voted for Mr. Trump. “He’s got to turn around health care.”

She said she also wanted to see home values rise.

Bethlehem and surrounding Northampton County were key to Mr. Trump’s upset victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton. The county in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley sided with President Obama in 2012 by 4 percentage points and 6,000 votes. Mr. Trump took the county by 5 points and just over 6,000 votes.

Big swings in the vote in places such as Northampton County were partly a result of Mr. Trump’s ability to tap into the frustration felt by working-class Americans. Despite the promise of economic expansion from a succession of presidents from both parties, they have struggled with stagnant wages and dwindling job opportunities.

Those angry blue-collar voters propelled Mr. Trump’s win in longtime Democratic strongholds such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, said working-class white voters found a champion in Mr. Trump, but that doesn’t necessarily make them Republicans.

“If you look down-ballot in Pennsylvania, a lot of these folks [who] voted for offices like attorney general, treasurer, state offices, voted Democrat,” he said. “A lot of these individuals still have Democratic leanings. There are more than a few Trump Democrats and probably still call themselves Democrats.”

Still, blue-collar voters took a gamble that a celebrity New York billionaire would be mark a real departure from typical politicians. Now they are eager for their bet to pay off.

“I want to see him make improvements over what his predecessor has done,” said Al Galdo, a 47-year-old registered nurse who voted for Mr. Trump. “I need to see improvement done for all Americans.”

Mr. Galdo said he switched professions from Home Depot manager to the health care industry as the economy began to falter in 2008. But he said he longs for a return of manufacturing to the old steel town where he lives and across the Rust Belt, an issue that was front and center on Mr. Trump’s economic agenda.

“There’s no industry left in this country,” said Mr. Galdo. “The kids in school are taught like they’re getting jobs at Bethlehem Steel, and that’s been shut down since Bill Clinton was president.”

The region struggled for more than 20 years to recover from the closing of Bethlehem Steel but has experienced a revival in recent years with a conversion of the mill into a SteelStacks arts campus and a Sands Casino Resort.

“Who knows what four years will bring?” said Mr. Galdo. “Let’s see what this guy will do.”

Tyler Kern, 22, a registered Democrat who was working on a moving truck during his winter break from college, said his vote for Mr. Trump was more of a vote against Mrs. Clinton, against the constant pressure to be politically correct, and against what he viewed as a corrupt Democratic National Committee.

Mr. Trump’s Cabinet picks, however, have disappointed Mr. Kern. He said too many of the nominees are part of the political establishment and are hostile to the environment.

“I’d at least like him to deliver on jobs,” he said.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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