Clinton peels off voters of Eastern European ancestry from Trump

Pennsylvania voters waiting to attend a Clinton event. Some may be new — and surprising — recruits.

Pennsylvania voters waiting to attend a Clinton event. Some may be new — and surprising — recruits.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s bromance with Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to be adding to the factors that could cost him the election, but in a way his campaign didn’t see coming.

As if Trump hasn’t inflicted enough damage on his campaign, and as his campaign and poll numbers sink further and further, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is seeing her poll numbers climb by gaining support from areas and voters that don’t usually go for Democrats.

You could add up all of the groups Trump has insulted and that’s likely a majority right there, especially as Trump’s numbers among women keep tanking because of the Access Hollywood hot-mic tape and the multiple groping/kissing allegations. But one group of normally Republican-leaning voters offers a special opportunity: the millions of U.S. voters of Eastern European heritage.

The Clinton campaign is targeting these voters mainly because of Trump’s support of Putin and Trump’s controversial comments about NATO. Many of these are working-class voters in the swing states (less swingy than they were weeks ago) of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Even if the number of voters changing sides isn’t that big, those numbers can make a difference in swing states. And once again, this demonstrates the thoroughness of the Clinton campaign.

According to a story from Reuters:

“We have been absolutely petrified … we can’t believe the statements Donald Trump is making,” said Andrij Dobriansky, spokesman for the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, an umbrella group for about a million Ukrainian-Americans.

Marina Kuchar, a Ukrainian-American from Pennsylvania who arrived in the United States in 2000, said she liked many Republican ideas. But Kuchar, 44, told Reuters in an interview she would not vote for Trump “because he thinks Putin is smart.” …

The Clinton team for months has been visiting Eastern European-American parades and festivals, said John McCarthy, director of the campaign’s “heritage community outreach.”

“Our activists, who have been out front and center at these events, will have people come up to them and say: ‘I’ve never voted for a Democrat before, but Donald Trump’s pro-Kremlin ties are … giving me second thoughts,’” McCarthy said.

The conservative American Enterprise Institute agrees:

Trump seems to finally realize that his bizarre embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and questioning of the U.S. obligation to defend its NATO allies, has alienated a critical voting bloc he needs to win the White House — Americans of Eastern European descent. … Trump’s gushing over the Russian autocrat could cost him on Election Day, when many of these voters decide they can’t cast their ballot for a man who loves a KGB-trained Russian dictator who is threatening their ancestral homelands. …

Putin is despised by millions of Polish Americans, as well as Czech, Slovak, Ukrainian, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian Americans, who either escaped to this country from behind the Iron Curtain or whose parents or grandparents did. These voters know what it is like to live in a police state. …

Ohio has at least 865,204 Eastern European American voters, including 420,149 Polish-Americans, 183,593 Hungarian Americans, 118,975 Slovak Americans, and 40,742 Ukrainian Americans. These are the white, ethnic working-class Reagan Democrats whom Trump is expecting to carry him to victory in Ohio. In a tight race, he can’t afford to lose any of these voters over his Putin bromance.

The story is the same in Florida, with 747,243 voters of Eastern European descent; Pennsylvania, with 1,481,914 voters of Eastern European ancestry; Wisconsin, 666,194; and Michigan, 1,075,800 (all figures are from AEI). AEI puts the total number of Eastern European ancestry voters at nearly 6 million and points out that many of them are concentrated in swing states. The Reuters story gave a higher estimate of more than 15 million voters of central and Eastern European ancestry.

A loss of some of these voters is cutting into Trump’s angry-white-guy base. Some of these are factory workers who have lost jobs, whether it’s in the auto or steel industry. Some were coal miners, or they might have lost some other blue-collar job. It’s not enough to turn them all off — Trump still has a huge edge among white men without college degrees — but he’s doing worse among white voters than Mitt Romney did in 2012, according to the latest figures from FiveThirtyEight.com. Trump is winning white voters by only 13 percentage points. Romney beat President Obama by 17 points with white voters, and he still lost. Trump would need to best Clinton by 22 points with white voters to have a chance.

I suspect we all know at least one person who was laid off during the Great Recession and who still is angry about it. Many of these are the ones we see at Trump rallies, even though the average annual income of a Trump voter during the primaries was $72,000, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Half of my heritage is Eastern European. Although my steelworker grandfather is long gone, I doubt he would be voting for Hillary Clinton. (My grandma, on the other hand, might have, after directing a few choice words at my grandpa in Serbo-Croatian.) But they were immigrants and staunch anti-Communists, having seen what happened to their homeland under Tito, and they would be furious that an American presidential candidate was flirting with the idea of getting cozy with Russia.

Trump can hardly afford to lose the normally Republican-leaning voters of Eastern European ancestry. Politico went so far as to call Trump’s Putin-embracing gamble “Trump’s Russian roulette.”

The Hillary Clinton campaign is meeting with swing-state leaders of Eastern European descent, encouraging ethnic debate watch parties and phone banks, and scheduling conference calls with Clinton allies from her State Department days as part of an aggressive effort to capitalize on Donald Trump’s embrace of Russian leader Vladimir Putin and his equivocal support for NATO. …

“I believe in our community, in many Eastern European communities, there is a high percentage of … voters that do still take foreign policy seriously because of our own immigrant story, or their strong support for NATO, that would lead one to be a supporter and vote for Hillary Clinton,” said Steve Rukavina, a leader in the national Croatian community based in Pennsylvania and helping to organize ethnic engagement efforts for Clinton in the state, in conjunction with the Democratic National Committee’s National Democratic Ethnic Coordinating Council. “We believe that can make a difference in this election, in any swing state that could be very close. So we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

In 2012, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham famously said, “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.” Donald Trump needs the votes of 70 percent of those angry white guys — more than any Republican has won, even in the 1984 landslide win by Ronald Reagan. Looks like at least some of them might be turning against the GOP nominee this time around.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Oct. 16, 2016.

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