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What Trump-Russia scandal? In this struggling county, pocketbook concerns overshadow Putin

What Trump-Russia scandal? In this struggling county, pocketbook concerns overshadow Putin
From CBC - July 17, 2017

Washington, D.C., continues to be scandalized by news that senior aides of U.S. President Donald Trump's campaign met with Kremlin-linked associates last year offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. But do voters fours hours northeast of the D.C. beltway care about the bombshell reports?

A 'shame' that Russia dogs Trump

At the Red Rooster pub inHazleton, Pa., the topic of Russia, as it relates to the beleaguered Trump presidency and alleged collusion during the 2016 election, elicits eye-rolls and smirks.

"It's a shame ashame we are even talking about Russia whatsoever," says JaredBuchman, 25, wearing a "Making America Great Again" T-shirt. "We should be focused on the issues: health care, immigration law, jobs. Not this collusion thing."

It's pretty well the same thing anywhere you go around thisformer coal town inLuzerneCounty, a bellwether region in economic decline. Last year, it flipped from the Democrats to support Trump in the election, enticed by his promise toreignitestruggling communities.

Spiralling health bills

At Chacko's Family Bowling Center in nearby Wilkes-Barre, the sound of clattering pins competes with cheers and tinny classic rock. Geopolitics and thoughts of meddling with America's democratic system are background concerns next to questions like why a simple emergency-room IV bag can cost hundreds of dollars on hospital bills.

"Around here, people are more concerned about jobs and the economy, not what Vladimir Putin is doing half a world away," Marc Labar, 37, says of the Russian president over a pitcher of Bud Light. Frustrated by the number of people leaving town, the police officer counts himself among those Democrats who decided to vote Trump last year.

County flipped to Republicans

Luzerne County wants change. Barack Obama took the county by five points in 2012. Last year, Trump carried it by 23 points.

Over funnel cakes with his family at a farmer's market in Wilkes-Barre's public square, Bill Griffith, 29, tosses a squealing baby with one arm. He has no concerns about the Trump-Russia investigation, not when he's working three jobsas a cook, a construction workerand a landscaperto support his young family.

"You just do what you have to do. Make a little money, buy some food."

'Let him do his job'

Vietnam War vet Robert Davis, shopping for fresh rhubarb at the market, approves of Trump so far. Stock market gains are upthat consumer confidence has to count for something, he says. He just wishes Democrats and critics would "leave the guy alone."

"Let him do his job for the American people," says Davis, 70, from Hanover Township. "I think they have blown this Russia thing way out of proportion."

Focus on moving forward

Blue-collar labour, primarily in anthracite coal mining and textiles manufacturing, built Luzerne County decades before its fortunes dimmed. But white-collar voters like financial adviser George Shadie, a well-connected Republican businessman, also turned out for Trump.

Shadie wants Democrats and the media to move past the "ad nauseum" Russia coverage.

"You turn on the radio, you turn on the TV, that's all you hear: Russia, Russia, Russia," he says. "Let's talk tax reform. Jobs. Raising the salaries of the middle class. I also like [Trump's] ideas about protectionism in imports."

'Sorry I voted for him'

Over Salisbury steak and beet salad at the Beltway Diner in neighbouring Hazleton, Louis Terse and his wifeSharonare rare Trump detractors in a restaurant where the TVs show the conservative One America News channel. Louis supported Clinton; Sharon's vote helped Trump carry the Rust Belt. Now she has buyer's remorse.

"I thought things were going to change," she says. "I am really sorry I voted for him."

Backing the president

Anxieties over immigration

Prioritizing immigration policy

Crumbling infrastructure

Misusing taxes

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