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'I'm still 100% Trump': Why some New York voters still support Pres. Trump — with caveats

Georgie Silvarole Chris Potter
New York State Team

Mike Calabrese's storefront on Seneca Falls' main drag is hard to miss. 

The small building, home to his T-shirt printing business, is covered in massive pro-Trump signage. Red, white and blue "TRUMP 2020" signs cover the store, with messages about American freedoms being at stake and "left wing lunatics" taking control. 

It's loud. He receives angry phone calls and death threats because of it.

And for the last four years, he's been fine with that. But speaking over the phone on Friday, Calabrese said his fervor for Trump is waning. 

"I'm still backing the guy, but I'm disappointed in the way he's leaving his presidency behind," Calabrese said. "He's darkened his legacy with the last few desperate attempts to win the White House."

The Shirt House, located on West Bayard Street in Seneca Falls, has several Trump 2020 signs on the exterior. Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020.

Like many New Yorkers who voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, Calabrese stuck with the candidate again in 2020. 

But as President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration approaches Wednesday, Trump voters are reflecting on the ups and downs of the past four years. Trump's second impeachment and the riot at the Capitol earlier this month have left some New Yorkers feeling discouraged by politics as a whole and eager to move on. 

"The two-party system is broken," Calabrese said. "It's just sad. You like to believe in your government ... but everything tells me the average American without a few million dollars in their pocket is just pavement for somebody to drive over."

Read more: Trump won 45 NY counties in 2016. Can he do it again? Why these voters still back him

GOP should 'focus on solving problems'

A "Trump Train" sits along Main Street in the Village of Andover, Allegany County in the days leading up to the 2020 election.

Many upstate New York counties broke heavily for Trump in 2020. In Steuben County, 63% of voters supported a second Trump term. Turnout increased by nearly 4,200 over 2016. 

As Trump heads back into private life, Republican officials are left to wonder if many of his supporters will stay home during the next election cycle. Close to 200 local offices throughout Steuben County are up for election this year. 

"We have to make sure that people who came out to vote for the presidency last year come out enthusiastic for our county, city and town candidates in 2021," said Steuben County Republican Party Chairman Joe Sempolinski. 

"That’s what I’m focusing on at this moment, getting ready for the many, many local offices we’re going to have up in 2021," he added. "Maintaining the enthusiasm of folks that felt positively for President Trump for our local Republican candidates is our goal and challenge for 2021." 

Trump and other Republican leaders may be complicating those efforts. The president's claims regarding election fraud have created rifts within the party and the nation. A Quinnipiac University poll released in December found 77% of Republicans believed in widespread voter fraud. Other polls reported similar numbers among Trump voters. 

Sempolinski has heard those claims. He's also stood by as an observer as votes were tabulated. 

"We have two very good, very competent (county election) commissioners, both Republican and Democrat," said Sempolinski. "When we were opening the absentee ballots in 2020, I was in the room and a Democratic representative was in the room making sure everything was done fairly, openly and above board. As the county chairman, I try to influence what I can influence, and make sure that for the elections happening in Steuben County, everyone — Republican, Democrat, independent, third party — can all feel vote their is counted." 

Sempolinski suggested the Republican Party would be best served offering up effective policy solutions that help the average voter, rather than perpetually litigating Trump's 2020 election dispute. 

“It’s an important thing for the country after every election to try to come together,” he said. “We elect our officials at all levels of government to solve problems, to run the government in a competent fashion. We want our elected leaders to focus on that as opposed to playing political games after election day.

"I would hope that our leaders at all levels of government are going to focus on that as we’re starting new terms in Congress and going through the inauguration. Let’s focus on solving problems for the American people." 

Voters admire the policies, not the man

Jim Schlick, 78, is the Republican Commissioner of Elections in Wyoming County.

Jim Schlick, Wyoming County's Republican commissioner of elections, said the state of national politics has left him shaking his head in the last few weeks. 

"I'm really disappointed," Schlick said. "Both sides — they're acting like third graders."

Trump, he said, falls into that camp, too. Schlick, 78, disliked what the president posted on Twitter (the social media app permanently banned his account on Jan. 8) and how he handled the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schlick, who describes himself as a fiscal conservative, liked Trump's policies regarding things like lowering income taxes and encouraging companies to conduct business within the United States, rather than moving operations overseas. 

But maybe, he said, it's time to see how a new administration would do things. 

"I voted for Trump. I voted for his policies — not so much the man," he said. "Right now, the Dems, they're in control. Let's see what they can do. Give them a chance."

Schlick's wife, on the other hand, already has her "Trump 2024" sign ready to go. 

Helene Schlick, 75, said she'd likely vote for him again if he chose to run, depending on who he was up against. 

"If there was somebody who had the personality and the magnetism of Trump but was a little more civil, I would vote for them," she said. "I can hardly believe that he was able to accomplish what he did in the time that he had with everything that he had stacked against him." 

For Mike Calabrese, who is 66 and lives in Seneca Falls, Seneca County, he's OK with the end of the Trump presidency.

Trump, he said, served as a true third-party candidate — one that Calabrese felt actually made policies to benefit average Americans — but the end of his term came with a disturbing amount of conflict. 

He said he'll be putting up a new sign soon, one that depicts the Statue of Liberty waist-deep in water and shares a message about how democracy is being denied. It's all he feels like can do.

"I'm still 100% Trump supporter," he said. "I'm not giving up on this. I just can't. I'm just one nothing voice in the middle of nowhere, but I’ve got to shout."

GSILVAROLE@Gannett.com

CPOTTER@Gannett.com