In Indiana County, Trump loyalty seems as strong as ever
There’s a reason some people refer to Indiana County as Trump country.
It has nothing to do with tony golf courses or glittering resorts.
It has everything to do with how voters in the rural county that is home to one of the nation’s largest coal-fired power plants rallied behind Donald Trump in 2016.
They helped push him over the top in Pennsylvania when they gave him a better than 2-to-1 margin over Hillary Clinton when he pulled 66% of the vote to Clinton’s 30.5%.
And if the sentiments that supporters voiced during a rally Friday evening at a picnic grounds along a country road just outside of Indiana are any indication, that support has grown even stronger over the past two-and-a-half years.
The event — billed as a MAGA, or Make American Great Again, rally — drew about 150 people. They ranged from senior citizens to families with toddlers, a sprinkling of college students and elected officials from both political parties.
Organizer Tammy Curry, a local businesswoman, sells log cabin accessories from her shop At the Cabin and offers CBD products at a second business aptly named Hemp Haven.
A lifelong Republican turned independent, Curry, who sported 10 glittering stars-and-stripes fingernails, supported Trump in 2016 and now volunteers with Women for Trump.
The 61-year-old mother of two and grandmother of five said she sent out fliers, invitations and Facebook notifications and pulled together a list of local candidates and elected officials from both parties in an effort to rally support for Trump and foster unity in this small college town that is also Indiana’s county seat.
Concerned with hatred of Trump
“We have to do something about all the hatred,” she said. “I just think right now the president is being attacked unjustly. People don’t respect the office of the president. Never have I seen this much hate. It scares me.”
There was little of that evident at the rally, which had the air of a church picnic as toddlers frolicked across the grass.
Curry said that was by design. She advertised the event as alcohol-free, cooked furiously and engaged friends to put on a picnic feast that ensured no one would leave hungry.
“There’s hot dogs and hamburgers and pulled pork and cookies and the best orange Dreamsicle cupcakes you can imagine,” she said, urging everyone to stop by the kitchen and indulge.
Nearby, Gun Owners Against Crime shared space in the picnic shelter with Family Promise of Indiana, a local group that was selling raffle tickets for a quilt to benefit its work with homeless families.
Dianne Boarts, 62, of Ford City brought her year-old great-grandson, Imonte, to the rally. She said that like many of her friends, she is worried about the proliferation of drugs and Democrats who want to legislate gun control.
“I’m definitely a Trump supporter. I like everything he’s supporting,” said the retired medical assistant, as Imonte danced to music playing over the sound system.
At the entrance to the picnic grove, Jerrold Treese, 68, of nearby Clymer, wiped his brow as he directed drivers to parking spaces, which were at a premium in the gravel lot and along the road.
A Trump Democrat
Treese, a school bus driver and former coal miner who worked underground for 17 years, said he got involved with the local Trump campaign in 2016. He joined forces with his neighbors to fight a property tax reassessment that left local homeowners reeling from hundreds of dollars in tax increases.
“I’m a Democrat, but I haven’t voted for one in a long time,” he said. “My paycheck isn’t that big, but when Trump’s tax cut went through I saw it get a little bigger.”
Garett Morey, 20, of Coudersport said he began volunteering for Trump even before he was eligible to vote. Morey is a political science major at nearby Indiana University of Pennsylvania who is active in Turning Point USA and the College Republicans. He sported a red MAGA cap and said he looks forward to voting for Trump next year.
“As soon as he came down that golden escalator, I said he was going to be president of the U.S.,” Morey said.
Westmoreland County native Tricia Cunningham, who emceed the event, told how she became an ardent GOP supporter as a small child when President Ronald Reagan read a letter she sent him at a televised news conference, where he thanked supporters as he recovered from a 1981 assassination attempt.
Sporting a bright pink Women for Trump T-shirt, Cunningham said she thought Reagan was “the best president ever,” until Donald Trump came along.
“I was ‘boots on the ground’ for him on day one,” she said.
Not everyone shared her enthusiasm for Trump, but even local Democrats were grateful for a chance to speak at the rally and shake hands.
County candidates invited
Incumbent Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty said Curry is a friend and long-time supporter. So the two-term DA, who is seeking re-election this fall, was happy to attend the rally.
“A lot of these people are my friends. I know them and I grew up with them. If we sat down and went issue by issue, we probably agree on 80% of them.
“Jim Struzzi, our state rep [representative] — he’s a Republican, but I coach his son in baseball. We’re closer together than we are far apart,” Doughtery said, as his Republican challenger on the fall ballot, Robert Manzi, headed toward the microphone.
Others on the agenda Curry assembled included Struzzi, an Indiana Republican, state Rep. Cris Dush, R-Brookville, state Sen. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, IUP senior Dalia Kerzner, president of the local university chapter of Turning Point USA, as well as Mike Kelly of the National Vets for Trump.
Retired Homer City police Chief Lou Sacco, who is running for Indiana County sheriff on the Democratic ballot, also took a turn at the microphone as those at the rally mingled and munched on the spread Curry put out.
Many sported red MAGA caps. Others wore Trump 2020 T-shirts emblazoned with the new campaign’s “Keep America Great” logo.
A different meaning for LGBT
Richard Wetzel, 87, a retired federal officer who worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, stood out in his red cap and purple T-shirt. He smiled slyly when a fellow Trump supporter commented about the T-shirt that broadcast Wetzel’s LGBT sentiments as support for “Liberty, Guns, Bible and Trump.”
But Wetzel refused to be lured into any discussion of limiting gender identity.
“I know all kinds,” he said. “There always have been. There are some good ones and some bad ones on all sides. It really doesn’t matter what they are. It’s that way in the animal kingdom, too.”
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, [email protected] or via Twitter .