Campaigns

By Lisa Mascaro
April 24, 2016

A retired middle school principal was so moved by Donald Trump that he switched his Democratic Party registration so he can vote for the Republican billionaire in next Tuesday’s Pennsylvania primary.

So did the daughter of a steel worker, who twice voted for President Obama but says she is “over” the Democrats’ political correctness.

And a husband-wife team of Trump volunteers – she’s a laid-off airport worker, he’s a laid-off truck driver — were Democrats for 30 years, until recently.

“We always voted Democrat,” said Laurie McGinnis, 49, as her husband, Ricky, 57, hung a Trump banner outside their South Greensburg home. “But not any more.”

Some of these newly minted Pennsylvania Republicans are simply formalizing a process that began with Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, when conservative-leaning Democrats began shifting away from the party in this faded industrial Rust Belt.

Others moved abruptly, inspired by Trump and fed up with a party they say no longer speaks their language.

Together the result is one of the most sizable shifts of partisan allegiance ever seen in Pennsylvania: 61,500 Democrats have become Republicans so far this year, part of a 145,000 jump in Republican registrations since the fall 2015 election, according to state figures analyzed by both parties. It’s more new Republicans than in the previous four years combined.

The onslaught has helped make Trump the favorite heading into Tuesday’s primary, chipping away at the Democratic stronghold and helping put Pennsylvania, which voted for Obama twice, in play in the November presidential election.

“The party-switching has been going on in an evolutionary way for two decades. This just propelled it faster,” said G. Terry Madonna, a professor at Franklin and Marshall University in Lancaster, Pa. “Many of them are Reagan Democrats – white, working-class, blue-collar, incomes of $35,000 to $40,000 or less, high school educations or less.”

“They feel frustrated, they feel left behind,” Madonna said. “They feel Trump is sticking it to the man.”

East of urban Pittsburgh, at Trump headquarters in Monroeville, volunteer Tricia Cunningham said that half the people who walk through the door are party switchers. So many supporters have come in to pick up lawn signs or volunteer that the office has had to open a second floor, and signs are limited to just one per person, Cunningham said.

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