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Politics & Government

Spotlighting Voters In Charlotte, N.C., And Pueblo, Colo.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Well, vast parts of the country will soon make their presidential preferences known. Fourteen states vote all at once next week on Super Tuesday. NPR has teams spending time in some key communities this election year. In selected cities, we're asking Where Voters Are - where they are on the issues, the candidates or just where they are because your community can often shape your political views. Steve Inskeep begins this series on the streets of Charlotte, N.C.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: We are in the biggest city in this state that will vote on Super Tuesday, the place where Republicans hold their convention this summer and also a presidential swing state this fall. This is one of our adopted cities where we hear from voters starting today. Another adopted city is Pueblo, Colo., which is where we've called a team with Ari Shapiro of NPR's All Things Considered, who's on the line. Hey there, Ari.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Where are you in Pueblo?

SHAPIRO: We are right in front of the plant that gives Pueblo its nickname, Steel City. There's a sign right here that says, 140 years, steel strong. But even though Pueblo was built on steel, today this plant is owned by a Russian company. And at this point, less than 10% of Pueblo's population works in manufacturing. I met a guy named Chuck Perko, who told me he's one of the lucky few. He's president of one of the local steelworkers' unions here, fourth generation in his family to work at the mill.

CHUCK PERKO: One of the things that you see kind of written on a lot of the new hardhats is hashtag #MillMoney because it's still one of the best paying jobs for somebody out there that may not necessarily have a college degree. The steelworkers - when somebody sees someone in that orange jacket walking around, they know they're someone that's providing for their family.

SHAPIRO: And, Steve, this is a really interesting city politically because Pueblo was built on waves of immigrants that moved here over more than a century. I mean, Chuck told me his team at the mill has more than 20 countries represented. The city is about 50% Hispanic. But in 2016, it narrowly went for President Trump, who, of course, has made manufacturing a huge part of his presidency.

INSKEEP: So that raises a question, what are you hearing from other people in that city?

SHAPIRO: People are really struggling. I hear two stories of the economy. On the one hand, unemployment is at the lowest point it's been in years. And yet - we went to this place that opened 35 years ago to help laid off steelworkers. It's a food pantry called the Cooperative Care Center. And the director, Mona Montoya, told me that, today, she's seeing people come for food who she never thought would need this kind of help - teachers, firefighters, nurses.

They helped a number of people last year equal to a quarter of Pueblo's population. And in fact, a quarter of the people in Pueblo are at or below the poverty line today. Now, Steve, I wonder how that compares with what you're seeing in Charlotte, N.C.

INSKEEP: Well, it seems very different here where I'm standing because I'm standing outside the NASCAR Hall of Fame, a gigantic building filled with racecars. And looking up at some of Charlotte's skyscrapers, this is a huge and prosperous banking center. But I want you to know, Ari, that as our team has been interviewing people here, we've heard some of the same themes.

There are people who feel left out of the strong economy. This is a city that, according to a study, had the least upward mobility of any major city in the country. So that is on the minds of some voters. And there are some people here who want a radical change.

SHAPIRO: Now, I know Charlotte is thought of as a Southern city. Does it feel like there's another side to the electorate there?

INSKEEP: Absolutely. As you move out from this very prosperous center, the city grows more conservative...

(SOUNDBITE OF SIRENS BLARING)

INSKEEP: ...Suburban voters indicate they don't like President Trump. I'll just mention a fire truck going past there. Suburban voters do not like President Trump, necessarily. But some of them say they could vote for Trump again if Bernie Sanders is the nominee because they are prospering in the current economy, don't want to mess with it too much.

There's also a big question of culture. Earlier this week, we went out to Kings Mountain, which is on the very edge of the metro area - much more of a rural area. And we spoke with a lot of voters, including Doug Lawing (ph), who is a retired utility executive. And he thought in terms of identity and cultural issues when he thinks about how he votes. Let's listen.

DOUG LAWING: We still care about the things that matter in this country - freedom of religion, for one thing, to be able to worship how you want to worship. We believe that this country is still a country of capitalism.

INSKEEP: When you hear him say freedom of religion, that is a way of talking about things like transgender issues, which have been big in North Carolina. His reference to capitalism, of course, is in opposition to Bernie Sanders or any other Democrat. He essentially considers them all socialists. This is a Trump supporter who thinks the country is doing really, really well right now.

SHAPIRO: Well, Steve, I look forward to hearing more of your reporting from Charlotte.

INSKEEP: Well, I look forward to more of your reporting from Pueblo, Colo., Ari. And more NPR teams will be adopting more cities as we go where voters are throughout this election year.

GREENE: That was Steve Inskeep in Charlotte, N.C., and also All Things Considered host Ari Shapiro in Pueblo, Colo. - all part of NPR's Where Voters Are reporting that kicks off today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.