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In purple Pierce County, Trump voters and a very different kind of Democrat

In presidential election tallies, Washington state has swaths of Republican voters and clusters of bright blue Democratic votes.

But what about the purple neighborhoods? 

Suburban Tacoma is that rare spot where electoral colors mix. Residents say politics there tend to be more discreet, to avoid ruffling feathers. And being a Democrat means something very different than it does in Seattle.

Hillary Clinton got 55 percent of the vote here in the 29th Legislative District. Voters also sent Democrats to the state legislature. But Donald Trump prevailed in six of those precincts.

Dave Peluso runs a bar in a small business district across I-5 from the Tacoma Mall. He says he voted for Trump after  vacillating between Trump and Clinton but he didn’t really feel like it mattered. He said he’s more concerned with local issues like paying the new minimum wage.

“If you provide jobs for people, you should have some kind of tax break," Peluso said. "Small business is supposed to be the backbone of the economy. But believe me, I feel my backbone’s been broken. Because they keep piling stuff on us.”


Votes for President in the 29th Legislative District; Donald Trump won the presidential vote in six precincts that also elected a Democrat to the State House.

Nearby is the union hall for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 76.

Political director Bryant Mullin says the support for Clinton was more visible. “Maybe the Trump support was … not as much public," he said. 

Tim O’Donnell is the union’s business manager. He believes Democrats or independents here who voted for Trump were misled. 

“If the working person voted for Trump, I think they had the wrong idea of what he is going to do for the working person," O’Donnell said. "I feel the attacks are coming against labor as soon as the new Congress convenes at the start of January.”

Right now, O’Donnell said there's work for his members in construction on Joint Base Lewis McChord and at the Port of Tacoma.

But O’Donnell said there is a strong anti-tax feeling in this area that could have fueled Trump support. He said even construction workers he spoke to were concerned about the tax increase in Sound Transit 3 – although it could give them jobs for life.  

“It could last for quite some time down here. So somebody starting their apprenticeship now could possibly retire off of that project," he said. 

That measure failed in Pierce County but got enough votes in King and Snohomish Counties to pass. Democrat Steve Kirby said he isn’t surprised the transit measure was unpopular here. He’s the longtime state representative of the 29th Legislative District. Kirby said these Democrats consistently vote for Tim Eyman’s anti-tax measures.

“It’s not a place where you want to be in favor of raising taxes for example," Kirby said. His other advice: “Tread lightly on gun issues.”

Although he notes that Initiative 1491 just passed here. It allows courts to remove guns from people deemed to pose a danger to themselves or others. 

His district shoots out of south Tacoma and winds around Joint Base Lewis McChord. Over time it’s been redrawn to include more suburban and Republican-leaning voters.

“Most of whom hadn’t voted for a Democrat like, ever,” Kirby said. So he’s proud of getting reelected this year with 60 percent of the vote.


Votes for State Representative, Position 2 in the 29th Legislative District.

Kirby said he does that by staying attuned to local needs and departing from his caucus when necessary. “Remember, my caucus is dominated by Democrats from Seattle who are a little to the left of me. A lot to the left of me.”

And yet the district remains Democratic. Republican political consultant Alex Hays says that’s partly just tradition in this diverse, working class, Catholic area.

“The 29th district has one of the highest rates of public assistance," Hays said. "It’s a district that historically has struggled economically as we’ve transitioned away from a manufacturing economy towards an information sector economy.”

Hays said he’s not surprised that Trump would have some appeal here. But Trump voters have taken some of their friends by surprise.

Latasha Cooks is a student at Clover Park Technical College. She’s studying her anatomy notes during a break from class.

“There’s been a lot of heated conversations, but they’ve calmed down lately,” she said. Cooks wasn’t passionate about any presidential candidate. Some of her friends seemed uncommitted as well, but then she learned otherwise.

"When they won’t tell me who they voted for, and say, ‘I’d rather not talk about it,’ I kind of know who they did vote for," she said. "And then when I see their Facebook, then I see it – okay, I see that you voted for Trump,” she said, even though their explanations don’t seem convincing to her.

On campus, another student, Jacob Ohlde, is heading home after class.  

“I was in the Army for six years. So a lot of my friends they didn’t really want to see Hillary Clinton as president because of certain scandals," he said, as well as concerns over gun control. But Ohlde said Trump held no appeal for him.  

“I don’t like his stances on global warming, personally to me that’s a huge issue. He already wants us to get out of the Paris Treaty right off the bat.”

Ohlde missed voting in the last two presidential elections because of basic training and deployment to Afghanistan. He said the choices this year were a distinct letdown.

“Here I am, 27-years-old and this is my first time voting -- and I was like, ‘Oh geez. Here we go.’”

Ohlde said he’s neutral ground in purple Pierce County, somewhere between his Army friends, who supported Trump, and his college friends, who rooted for Democrat Bernie Sanders.

So who did he vote for? Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. Compared to 2012, third-party candidates here did much better. But overall, thousands fewer people in the district voted this year.

Year started with KUOW: 2005