DNC Chairman Courts Valley Voters, GOP Pushes Back

BOARDMAN, Ohio ­– Seven months after Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez arrived in Mahoning Valley Friday to listen to voters here and outline the party’s path forward.

In advance of his visit, the Mahoning County Republican Party held press conference Friday morning to showcase former Democratic and unaffiliated voters who voted for Trump in 2016.

“The Democratic Party needs to talk directly to the American people,” Perez began.

“Our trip to Ohio has been exactly what I’ve been doing all across America, which is making house calls,” he said.

Perez spoke  to 80 people at Wedgewood Pizza at a fundraising event — $25 a ticket — that was dubbed “Pizza with Perez.”

He talked about his working-class roots in Buffalo, N.Y., and excoriated President Trump for what he called broken promises to working-class voters. He cited Trump’s promise to label China a currency manipulator and his vow to improve health care for working Americans. “He lied,” Perez said.

Affordable health care, better jobs and an emphasis on apprenticeships for young people looking to enter the trades were the main themes in his speech. He also talked about the need to tackle the growing opioid epidemic in Ohio.

Democrats should be more honest about the problems they face with working class voters, Perez said, both here and across the United States. “As Democrats, we have to do a better job of speaking to the hopes and fears of folks here in the Valley,” he said.

Defending labor unions and fighting for workers’ right to organize are central to that struggle, he said. Not doing a good enough job of addressing voters’ concerns about free trade agreements such as Nafta is something the party must change, Perez said. “We need to do a better job of listening.”

Perez appeared with Jamael Tito Brown, the Democratic nominee for mayor of Youngstown, calling him an example of the talent the party has in the Valley, which he called a “bellwether for the nation.”

Despite the results of the 2016 election, which gave Republicans control of both house of Congress, Perez voiced confidence in Democratic prospects for 2018. He pointed to Democrats capturing the governorship in Ohio after Republican presidential victories in 1968 and 1980. He predicts history will repeat itself. “I believe we’re going to be electing a Democratic governor here in Ohio,” he said.

Jackson Tittle, a retired teacher, held a brief conversation with Perez during his speech, calling his visit to the Valley “an absolute necessity.”

“We’ve got to get out of this morass we’re in,” he said of the Democratic Party. “Take a look at what is happening now and what the Republicans are trying do. None of it is good for us in the Valley.”

John Russo, scholar and former chairman of the Center for Working-Class Studies at Youngstown State University, expressed skepticism after hearing Perez speak. “I didn’t hear any new policy issues or anything about how they were going to reengage,” he said. “So who are they listening to? Is it just listening to the DNC or the Ohio Democratic Party? Or is it about listening to the people here?”

Mahoning County Republican Party Chairman Mark Munroe and a group of new Republicans expressed their skepticism about Perez’s visit during a press event earlier in the day at Republican headquarters here.

Khadija Gillette, Connie Spagnola and Justis Harrison joined Mahoning Republican chairman Mark Munroe at the press event.

A group of six formerly unaffiliated or Democratic voters who voted for Trump told why they became Republicans. First-time voter Justis Harrison said she took a closer look at Trump after what she described as “the unfair treatment” from Democrats. “It made me dig deeper into who he is, his polices and how he wanted to make America great again,” she said.

Former Democrat Geno Difabio, who crossed over to vote for Trump, described his experience as a Democrat as being part of “an abusive relationship.”

“Every four years, every two years, locally, they come around and say, ‘Oh, we’re going to take care of you. We’re going to fight for you.’ And then they’d disappear.”

Trump voter and United Auto Workers member Dominic Humphries said he couldn’t recall a previous election where workers at GM Lordstown had openly expressed enthusiasm for a Republican candidate. “We actually had people walking around in the plant with Donald Trump shirts on and with bumper stickers.”

Regarding turnout at the Democrats’ “Pizza with Perez” event, Munroe suggested not many voters would want to pay $25 to explain to Perez why they had voted Republican in the 2016 election.

“Many of the Democrats who have crossed over are no longer Democrats,” he said. “They’ve become Republicans, and they’re supporting Donald Trump.

Pictured at top: DNC Chairman Tom Perez speaks at Wedgewood Pizza.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.