PORT ANGELES — A television production crew from a national network conducting an interview on a Port Angeles street corner is a relatively rare occurrence and cause for some rubbernecking by passing motorists.
The reason for the visit was even more uncommon: the Clallam County electorate’s uncanny knack at correctly picking the next President of the United States.
With 50.17 percent of Clallam voters choosing now President-Elect Joe Biden and 46.86 percent of ballots backing a second term for President Donald Trump, the county is left standing as the lone locale in all the land to back the winning candidate in 10 straight presidential elections dating to 1980.
Entering election day, 18 other counties across the country, mostly rural, saw similar streaks, some even going back decades longer, end after backing Trump in this election.
Understanding the rhyme and reason behind Clallam County’s political preferences resulted in Friday’s visit by Los Angeles-based ABC News correspondent Zohreen Shah and producer Ashley Riegle, along with camera man Glenn Aust and sound technician Eric Soma.
The report will air on ABC News Live, available online at abcnews.go.com/Live or through Facebook, Twitter and SmartTV apps at 4 p.m., 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tuesday.
“We wanted to know why, what motivated people to in some way swing the way of the country for the last 40 years,” Shah said. “As far as we know there were 19 places before this election, but 18 of them went for Trump. We wanted to talk to people to find out what was it, what was the core reason? And I don’t know if we have one answer, I think we have a couple of answers.”
Riegle said attempting to understand the historic nature of the election, conducted during a pandemic and featuring record voter participation, was important.
“I think those that live in the coastal big cities want to understand how people feel in smaller cities, especially because of the pandemic, what’s going on with COVID,” Riegle said. “We had an unprecedented turnout in terms of voting. When we learned this history that your community has predicted this for decades, It was sort of like, ‘Wow.’ We wanted to make the trip and hear what matters to people here as Americans and as voters and why they chose what they chose.”
Shah and company started by seeking out the thoughts of the politically diverse Clallam County Board of County Commissioners, speaking with Forks Republican Bill Peach, Sequim Democrat Mark Ozias and Port Angeles Independent Randy Johnson.
“The commissioners talked about how Clallam County is isolated geographically and maybe more independent and with less extreme viewpoints than other places,” Shah said.
When asked to lend advice to the nation’s leadership, Peach preached the importance of listening to alternate viewpoints.
“You need to listen and learn what is driving the opposite view and work for compromise,” Peach said. “That’s hard to do, it’s hard to advance the ball.”
Johnson also drew praise from his fellow commissioners when he brought up the urgent need for federal funding for Black Ball Ferry Lines, operator of the sidelined MV Coho, a casualty of the U.S./Canadian border shutdown.
Clallam’s highest elected leaders also were asked to offer guesses on the 2024 winner.
Ozias stayed true to the blue, predicting another win by Democrats, while Peach said it depends on how the pandemic plays out and the ensuing economic recovery. Johnson, who also declined to divulge who he voted for this time around, wouldn’t venture a guess but the Independent expected Clallam’s “independent-minded voters” to continue serving as the nation’s bellwether.
Peninsula Daily News Reporter Paul Gottlieb was interviewed by the crew. He looked at census data to try to arrive at an answer for the county’s presidential prognostication.
The information showed Clallam voters to be less well off economically, with fewer earning college degrees as a percentage of population and whiter than the U.S. average. The lone link Gottlieb discovered was Clallam’s average age closely corresponds with the national average.
Young Johnson, owner of Port Angeles’ H2O Waterfront Bistro, also was interviewed.
Johnson explained her restaurant and bar, which will be closed for its sixth anniversary Nov. 22, has been forced to shutter for nearly the entire duration of the pandemic due to steep declines in tourism and the hesitancy many locals have in returning to indoor dining.
With the restaurant’s contracted bills for services such as dishwasher maintenance continuing to arrive each month, Johnson, an Obama voter in 2008 and 2012 who broke for Trump in 2016, went for Biden this time around. But she told Shah her decision was even more personal than her livelihood.
Johnson said her attitude on the pandemic changed when her daughter and grandchildren tested positive for COVID-19 in late summer. And her decision to back Biden was sealed when Trump contracted the virus and received a level of care not given average Americans like her daughter, including helicopter transportation aboard Marine One and expert treatment and therapeutic remedies at Walter Reed Military Hospital.
“Young said she votes with her emotions and she thinks that’s a clue, that if you felt personally impacted in a negative way by Trump’s presidency, you voted against him,” said Shah, who most recently covered “Count the Vote” protests by Trump supporters in Maricopa County, Ariz.
Riegle said it was worth the trip to the Olympic Peninsula beyond covering the election story, factoring in side highlights such as taking the Bainbridge ferry, seeing the last gasp of fall foliage and experiencing some pouring rain and blustery winds.
And it was newsworthy.
“From an LA-based news perspective it was absolutely worth it to make this journey because we want to see what people here believe and how they live, and you have to get here to find out,” Riegle said.
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-406-0674 or [email protected].