Those who think President Donald Trump’s popularity in the Mahoning Valley is waning because of the idling of the Lordstown General Motors facility or because of the controversial things he’s done and said do so at their own peril.
If anything, the Republican president might be more popular in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, traditional Democratic strongholds, than in 2016.
One example was evident Tuesday. About 550 people showed up at the Mahoning County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day dinner headlined by David A. Clarke Jr., a vocal Trump proponent.
Clarke, a former sheriff of Milwaukee County in Wisconsin from 2002 to 2017, was a Trump surrogate during the 2016 presidential election and spoke that year at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Clarke has basically only a fringe connection these days to Trump.
Yet he still drew the largest crowd in Mahoning County’s history for a Lincoln Day dinner and county GOP Chairman Thomas McCabe said he was told by state Republican officials that it was the best-attended such dinner in Ohio this year.
Clarke had sort of fallen off the map in recent months.
He used to be a semi-regular guest on Fox News until about a year ago. Clarke told me that when he was sheriff, he wasn’t paid to appear on the cable TV network. But he said he was told that once he was no longer a public official he would be paid by Fox News to be a contributor.
He said that didn’t work out as there was a change in leadership at Fox News and the new people didn’t want to pay him and “I don’t work for free.”
He said Fox News “wasn’t my best platform.”
Clarke said he didn’t like the limited time for each appearance on Fox News because in a few minutes “all you can do is throw flames.”
Clarke was also a senior adviser and spokesman for the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action, but left that job in February. If he was paid to be a spokesman and can’t get on Fox, there’s no reason to retain him.
Clarke is now affiliated with We Build the Wall, a pro-Trump organization that seeks to raise money to build a wall on private land with private money along the country’s southern border.
So he’s not exactly chatting up the president or Trump’s closest advisers, but his past connection was enough to pack the Maronite Center in Youngstown for the Republican dinner.
When I spoke to him, Clarke was heavy with hyperbole.
Clarke contended that what Trump has “had to endure is unprecedented. No president in the history of this country has had this sort of resistance to try to denormalize him, try to delegitimize his presidency.”
He also said Trump has faced “an orchestrate effort – mainly by the deep state, but also by the left, the Democratic Party – to delegitimize his presidency.”
And Clarke is still making a living from his former Trump connection.
He made $15,000 total for Tuesday’s Mahoning GOP dinner and an event that same day in Cleveland.
Even with the Clarke fee, the party probably cleared about $20,000 to $25,000 on the event.
McCabe did an excellent job of getting sponsors to pay $2,500 and $1,000 for tables and selling tickets to others.
The point is if Clarke can draw such a large crowd – compare it to Democrat Joe Biden’s Monday presidential campaign kickoff rally in Pittsburgh that attracted 600 for a free event – in Mahoning County, things are looking pretty good for Trump in the Valley.
There are a number of caveats.
First, we don’t know who the Democratic presidential nominee will be.
Second, we’re a long way off from the November 2020 presidential election.
Third, crowd size doesn’t always indicate how people will vote.
In the 2016 election, Trump narrowly lost Mahoning County to Democrat Hillary Clinton. Clinton received 49.9 percent of the vote to 46.6 percent for Trump.
In Trumbull County, Trump won with 50.7 percent to 44.5 percent for Clinton.
In both counties, it was the best a Republican presidential candidate had done since Richard Nixon during his 1972 re-election.
As I mentioned, there’s still plenty of time before the 2020 presidential election, but the Mahoning Valley now looks like it’s supporting Trump.