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They Took A Gamble And Voted Trump In 2016. Whom Are They Going To Vote For In 2020?


Early voting started this week in the hotly contested swing state of Florida. Already, more than 3 million Floridians have cast a ballot either through early voting or absentee. Today, we're going to revisit a family in Pensacola. We first spoke with in 2016 this family about taking a gamble on a different kind of candidate, Donald Trump, and how they view his presidency today. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Like much of this Florida Panhandle city, Clover Lawson's North Pensacola neighborhood is strewn with downed trees, and most of the roofs are covered with blue tarps. It's been a little more than a month since Hurricane Sally struck, and the cleanup is still underway.

CLOVER LAWSON: So I lost the chimney cover. That's what that is right there.

ELLIOTT: Lawson walks around the outside of her house, noting it escaped without major damage.

C LAWSON: Even my garden made it.

ELLIOTT: She's still harvesting okra and has an overgrown pepper patch.

C LAWSON: So that's what happens in Pensacola. We just call it peppers gone wild here (laughter).

ELLIOTT: The politics here are of a similar color.

C LAWSON: Deep red (laughter).

ELLIOTT: This part of northwest Florida voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in 2016, and polls indicate he'll likely carry the region again.

C LAWSON: These people work hard for their money, and they want to keep as much of it as possible.

ELLIOTT: Lawson, a Second Amendment activist who works for a gun manufacturer, says she switched her party affiliation from independent to Republican before the last presidential election and got involved in party politics. She's currently campaigning for a local state House candidate. Four years ago, she told me it felt like the culture of the country was at stake and politics needed a reset. Her parents, Simone and Ted Lawson, were equally as frustrated. Here's what they said back then.


SIMONE LAWSON: It's a disaster.

TED LAWSON: I think the emotional side of how we feel is that we've had enough of politics as usual.

ELLIOTT: So they backed the long shot Trump, Ted Lawson musing he would either be the best or worst president the country has seen. This year, the Lawsons stop by their daughter's house to again talk politics.

C LAWSON: Mama, just be careful 'cause my...

ELLIOTT: Sitting outside on the back deck, the Lawsons are all in for Trump's reelection.

T LAWSON: My verdict today is that he's the best president we've ever had. And it's not so much of his personality that we're talking about. We're talking about his accomplishments.

ELLIOTT: They say he's kept his promise to move ahead with a border wall, and the retirees are big fans of his Supreme Court nominees. Ted Lawson is a Vietnam veteran who retired from the civil service. Simone Lawson had a screen printing business. The couple practice Catholic charismatic renewal and say their faith informs their vote.

S LAWSON: Freedom of religion is much more open with Trump as president - freedom, period (laughter), right?

ELLIOTT: Trump's personality had given Simone Lawson pause in the last election.

S LAWSON: Oh, I didn't like him at first, at all.

ELLIOTT: His tone irritated her, but not so much anymore. The Lawsons say he just tells it like it is.

T LAWSON: The - most of the people I know that don't like him, don't like him for those very reasons - that he's a braggart. He's got a big mouth. He's a bully. He bullies people.

S LAWSON: Yeah, but he's our bully.

T LAWSON: He's our bully. You know, I didn't vote for Trump - I didn't vote for him because he was a nice, gracious man. I voted for him 'cause he got stuff done.

ELLIOTT: Clover Lawson is 51 and has two sons who are young adults. In her view, Trump has done some boneheaded things that are distractions, but she doesn't think he's getting a fair rap for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

C LAWSON: For someone who's - doesn't have any experience being a politician, you can tell, you know (laughter)? Am I happy with a lot of stuff that's gone on in the past couple years? Yeah. I think he was handed a really bad apple this year. And to judge the other couple years based on this year would be terribly unfair.

ELLIOTT: Lawson is alarmed by what she sees as a proliferation of misinformation and conspiracy theories that reach her parents' inbox, and she tries to debunk them. Her dad acknowledges it's hard to sort out what to believe.

T LAWSON: When I read an article on Facebook and it kind of tricks my starter, my children say, you know, don't repost it. And so I don't because it's probably not true. But then, you know, what is the truth?

ELLIOTT: They're skeptical of polls that show Trump is trailing Biden. I asked them whether Americans will accept the outcome.

S LAWSON: He has to win.

T LAWSON: On both sides they won't accept it. If the Republicans lose, they won't accept that. I won't accept it, but neither will he.

S LAWSON: We've accepted all the elections in the past - all right? - in our lifetime. A lot of times, it wasn't our choice. But we've always respected the office of the president. But in this case, Trump has to win.

ELLIOTT: The Lawsons say they will be voting in person on Nov. 3, while Clover plans to cast an absentee ballot, something she's always done as a former military wife.

Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Pensacola, Fla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.