If Donald Trump becomes the 45th president, it will almost certainly mean that he won in places like Iowa’s Delaware County, where demographic, political and economic headwinds present a challenge for Hillary Clinton.
The county has a low proportion of college-educated residents, an economy that recovered more slowly from the recession than the state as a whole and a population that’s almost entirely white. It’s also a locale that, despite splitting almost exactly evenly between President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney in 2012, shows why this state is currently a toss-up.
On Main Street in Manchester, the county seat with about 5,100 inhabitants, few are reveling in being an electoral signpost. “I think we’re screwed,” said Tari Deutmeyer, 42, a nurse and independent voter. “You get to pick between a liar and someone who doesn’t know what the heck he’s doing.”
With a voting age population of about 13,200, the county recorded 9,405 ballots in 2012, a 71 percent turnout. Iowa also starts early voting Sept. 29, just three days after the first presidential debate.
For now, Trump seems better positioned for Iowa’s six electoral votes. A Monmouth University poll released last week had him leading by eight percentage points, an edge almost double the average from recent Iowa polls compiled by RealClear Politics.
Brad Anderson, a Democratic strategist who was Obama’s Iowa director for his 2012 re-election campaign, said the state is likely to revert to the kind of closer presidential elections it had in 2000 and 2004. Al Gore beat George W. Bush by three-tenths of a percentage point and Bush beat John Kerry by less than seven-tenths of a percentage point.
“It’s going to be close and that’s more par for the course for the state,” Anderson said.
The 2012 vote in Delaware County was closer than it was statewide, with Romney beating Obama, 4,636 votes to 4,616 votes.
Demographics may be competing against Clinton this year, as race and educational attainment have emerged as two of the most extreme fault lines in this campaign. Trump polls best among white voters with the lowest levels of educational attainment, like many of those in Iowa.
Overall, Iowa ranks 36th for share of residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher. The statewide average is 26.4 percent, but in Delaware County it’s just 14.9 percent.
The county is also 97.7 percent non-Hispanic white. That’s white even by the standards of Iowa, which is 87.8 percent non-Hispanic white.
Barry Funke, 44, an owner of an auto detailing business in Manchester, is one of those county residents who didn’t complete a four-year degree.
“I’m going to go for Trump because Hillary has too much baggage behind her,” Funke said. “We need someone with common sense.”
Steve Grubbs, a Republican strategist in Iowa, said that Clinton is being hurt in the state by defections to Trump of blue-collar voters.
“That’s a voter Clinton is struggling to hold onto,” he said. “Even more, Iowa has an unusually large portion of its voters over 65, and that’s a sweet spot for Trump.”
Trump finished second in Delaware County to Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in the caucuses, 35.5 percent to 22.1 percent. Republican activists in the county say the businessman brought new people into the process and they are likely to back him in November.
“I’ve seen a lot more new people out at the caucuses and at our Republican dinner this month,” said Clifford Bunting, co-chairman of the Delaware County Republican Party.