Dave Cranston, Jr., thinks the president is an “egomaniac” and a bully — an inevitable product, he suspects, of Donald Trump’s wealthy New York City upbringing.
Mr. Cranston, whose kind features and deferential tone are a world away from the angry partisanship in Washington, has other things to worry about: Namely, five straight years of declining sales — a total 27 percent drop in revenue since 2012 — in his family-owned business selling equipment to Pittsburgh-area manufacturers.
He’s known the problem. His customers were tied to the energy production and steel industries, which have turned down in recent years. But it wasn’t until this year that he got enough extra money to launch websites and marketing campaigns that focus on more profitable and sustainable products and services that support advanced manufacturing.
He estimates the GOP tax cuts, pushed through in December, are saving him as much as $10,000 on quarterly payments to the federal government this year.
“We’ve gone from declining to where we have turned it back around,” said Mr. Cranston, sitting in his office on the second floor of a modest office building on Steubenville Pike in Robinson.
© Provided by PG Publishing Co., Inc. Election 2018
Issues: The economy
“The vast majority [of small business owners] feel like we pay, in aggregate, too many taxes, and at some point, it takes away the incentive and capital to grow,” he added. “From that standpoint, I supported the president because he said he wanted to reduce taxes.”
Mr. Cranston’s willingness to overlook unsavory parts of Mr. Trump’s personality — which has prompted liberal outrage Democrats hope to harness this fall — is a familiar narrative for the president’s base of voters. In particular, the legions of small businesses built around manufacturing in Western Pennsylvania, which Mr. Trump promised to bring back, are satisfied by the Republican message of lower taxes and economic growth.
Many of those companies, which range from a handful of people to several hundred, are spread throughout key swing neighborhoods in suburban Allegheny County that split down the middle between Mr. Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. Mr. Cranston’s business sits in a precinct that voted 236 to 234 for Trump.
Ahead of midterms that hinge on a battle for enthusiasm over incendiary social issues and anti-Trump sentiment, the enduring power of jobs and paychecks have been top of the mind of voters.
Americans said the economy is their top issue heading into the elections, according to the most recent round of polling by Morning Consult, a Washington D.C.-based research firm. Among states with the most competitive races, Pennsylvania cared the most about the economic issues.
According to Google Trends, Pennsylvanians’ curiosity about health care costs, Social Security, the minimum wage and tariffs have all led to regular Google search terms in the last two years, while issues like immigration and guns spiked high during big events.
Republican candidates, facing the prospect of a “blue wave” of Democratic voters, have pinned hopes on talking about the tax cuts.
In January, President Donald J. Trump dropped by H&K Equipment Group to tout the tax cuts and campaign for Rep. Rick Saccone of Elizabeth, who ended up losing in his House race in the 18th District against Democrat Conor Lamb of Mt. Lebanon.
Two weeks later, Vice President Mike Pence stumped at the Heinz History Center to support two Pittsburgh-area Republicans, Rep. Mike Kelly, of the 3rd Congressional District, and Rep. Keith Rothfus, who is now running against Mr. Lamb in the freshly drawn 17th Congressional District.
“They’re talking about how the tax cuts have put real money back into workers’ pockets,” said Val DiGiorgio, chairman of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania. The Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan research group in Washington, D.C., founded average tax cut in Pennsylvania will be $2,180.
“I talk to trade union leaders, and they’re seeing workers busier than they’ve been have in a long time,” Mr. DiGiorgio said. Even union leaders, traditionally in the Democratic camp, are tacitly supporting Republicans, he said. “They’re not signaling to their membership that they should vote Democratic, and that’s enough for us.”
Mr. DiGiorgio’s confidence reflects an economy that, by many broad measures, is booming. This year, unemployment fell to 50-year lows, and the stock market marked its longest period of uninterrupted gains in history, dating back to the depths of the Great Recession in 2009.
Yet the recovery has been uneven. Workers’ paychecks have seen paltry raises even as companies have gotten richer, and many people struggle at minimum wage to make ends meet.
“The stock market is up — but that’s only for people who are invested in the stock market,” said Nancy Patton Mills, chairwoman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. “How does that benefit the average person?”
Pennsylvania Democrats are using a drive to raise the state’s minimum wage of $7.25 an hour as a rallying cry, she said.
“To us, this is the most important part of the economy: How much money are average people putting in their pockets and how are they supporting their families?” she said.
Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat up for re-election, has campaigned on raising the minimum wage for Pennsylvania government employees to $15 an hour by 2024. Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said voters have seen the economy improve for many years before Mr. Trump took office but said many had been left behind.
“I think some of the economic indicators we’ve been using for years don’t tell the full story,” said Mr. Casey in an interview last week. Of the GOP tax cuts, Mr. Casey said, “The talking points from last December and early 2018 weren’t conveying the reality. I think more folks know that 83 percent of the benefits from the tax bill will go to the top one percent.”
That message could appeal to working-class families, said Jenn Jannon-Fischer, deputy director of Working America, a nonunion affiliate of the AFL-CIO labor federation that has spent 10 years canvassing about 175,000 members in the Pittsburgh region.
In January 2016, Working America used door-to-door surveying in blue-collar areas around Pittsburgh to document — at a time many observers were dismissing him — rising support for then-candidate Trump.
This time around, Ms. Jannon-Fischer said the front-porch conversations provide less insight into which way a voter might lean.
While their top concern is “almost always an economic issue,” she said the GOP tax cuts don’t register with them. “It’s not added up to anything to most of the folks we’re talking to.”
“We’re talking to a lot fo people who are right in the middle of the political spectrum,” she added. “A lot of the people we talk to feel like the economic growth of the nation hasn’t really reached them.”
But there are also signs the economic message is the Republicans’ to lose — particularly in the way Trump’s message still resonates with the manufacturing industry in the Pittsburgh region.
Those companies are inextricably woven together. Mr. Cranston’s business in Robinson sells products to H&K Equipment Group, the materials-handling business that was host to Mr. Trump in January.
Patrick Koch, the company’s general manager, said during an interview last week that the tax cut had made it easier for the company to invest $2.7 million this year to expand its rental equipment, a fleet of about 1,400 pieces that includes smaller pallet jacks and floor scrubbers and larger rail car movers and steel coil handlers.
H&K put none of the tax cut savings into employee pay, Mr. Koch said, but he has hired more workers.
Across his group of companies, H&K hired 55 new people this year, boosting employment to about 315 — a nonunion staff of mostly skilled technicians, mechanics and electricians, he said. Salaries start at about $45,000, with longer-serving employees earning over $100,000, he said.
Last week, some of those employees were hard at work repairing and rebuilding coil handlers, elephant-sized machines that can lift steel coils as heavy as 60,000 pounds.
Asked about Mr. Trump’s visit, Mr. Koch said he wasn’t trying to make a political statement as much as get positive exposure for his business.
“If Hillary had won and asked [to visit], we would have hosted her gladly,” he said. “We’re not a think tank and we’re not academia. Guys who are buying our trucks are operating mills or they’re construction foreman, and they’re generally in the Trump bloc.”
“At the end of the day, we’re trying to get trucks out the door to our customers,” he said.
Daniel Moore: [email protected], 412-263-2743 and Twitter @PGdanielmoore
Source : https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/for-many-economy-takes-center-stage-in-key-swing-precincts-around-pittsburgh/ar-BBOpnd7