They chafed at Covid restrictions, think US schools are teaching the wrong stuff and are stunned by runaway inflation. Republicans in Pennsylvania see Tuesday’s midterm voting as step one toward retaking power in 2024.
Paul Nelson, 80, was in the front row at a rally for Republican Senate candidate Mehmet Oz, a doctor and TV celebrity who has been endorsed by former president Donald Trump.
An Oz win could prove key to Republicans retaking control of the evenly-divided upper chamber of Congress, where only a third of seats are up for reelection this year.
Polls show they have a much better chance in the House of Representatives, where all 435 members must stand for election.
“If Republicans can take over the Congress,” said Nelson, wearing a baseball cap decorated like the US flag, “then we get a president like Trump. We will be back to where Trump ended.”
Among other things, those were days when gas and food prices were lower, he said alongside his wife Carol.
– ‘A good Republican’ –
“We need to get a good Republican back on there which is Trump,” said Nelson at the rally in an industrial building in this one time steel city that became a symbol of US industrial decline.
Nelson is a longtime Republican who lives in suburban Philadelphia and sees two priorities for America: bring inflation down and tighten up controls at the border with Mexico to counter drug cartels smuggling in narcotics like fentanyl.
Inflation is on pretty much everybody’s mind in Bethlehem, but 54-year-old real estate agent Dawn Davanzo says this election is about freedom.
In addition to the national congressional races, most states, including Pennsylvania, are also holding elections for governor, state legislatures and other local positions.
Davanzo says she never supported Covid lockdowns, one of many pandemic measures set at the state and local level that further divided the already deeply polarized country.
– ‘Locked down’ –
“We were locked down forever under Democrats here,” said Davanzo.
Under Pennsylvania’s outgoing Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, portions of the state were under orders to stay at home from April 1, 2020 through early-June.
States and cities led by Democrats generally kept stringent health protocols in place longer than Republican-led areas.
Just as aggrieved is Vero Nicole, who accused the Democrats of ruining her business — she sold outfits for dancers — with Covid restrictions.
More than a million people in the United States have died from Covid since the beginning of the pandemic.
Nicole said she voted for Democrats in the past but no longer.
“They’re not the party of the people anymore. The party of the people is now the Republicans, and it is Donald Trump,” said Nicole, who said she likes Oz, too.
She added: “Donald Trump, his policies were great. I don’t want to date him. But he was great. Gas was $1.99. He was a strong ruler.”
Jessica Rivera, a homemaker aged 42, said she also wants Trump to be president again.
“These past two years have been very scary for me,” said Rivera. She called the Democrats “just way too far left.”
She said education is a problem as progressives and conservatives battle over what to teach — in a culture war that has focused heavily during the campaign on LGBTQ rights.
“They are trying to introduce our young little children into this whole ideology about being able to pick their gender. I don’t believe in that,” said Rivera.
For Ethan, a 21-year-old communications student who did not give his last name, such matters “should be left out of school.”
“It should be more math and science,” he said, “what kids need to get a job.”