First Presidential Debate Disappoints Some Granville Residents, Solidifies Votes

Oct 14, 2020

Downtown Oxford, NC, in Granville County. Granville is just one of a handful of counties in the state that flipped from blue to red in the 2016 presidential race.
Credit Rusty Jacobs / WUNC

I first spoke with David Quinn a couple of weeks ago, before the first presidential debate. Quinn, 64, was coming out of the post office branch in downtown Oxford, the Granville County seat.

Quinn and his wife are empty nesters, who moved to Oxford from Raleigh.

"You don't have the traffic, you can buy way more house for way less money," he said at the time.

Sitting on the porch of his historic home near Oxford's city center, the computer systems analyst discussed his views of the 2020 presidential race, a week removed from the first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden, a spectacle that Quinn called a "national embarrassment."

Like many who watched it, Quinn deplored the utter lack of civility at the debate. But he blamed both candidates for that, and still supports the president. Quinn said he likes Trump's aggressive stance towards China and trusts him to create jobs and spur the nation's economy.

David Quinn, 64, a registered unaffiliated voter from Oxford, NC. He was disappointed by the performance of both candidates in the first presidential debate but said he still supports the president for reelection.
Credit Rusty Jacobs / WUNC

"You know, do I like Trump personally? Not really," he said. "Do I like what Trump is doing from a policy perspective? Yes."

Quinn's a registered unaffiliated voter. And his support for Trump remains steadfast even after the debate and a recent New York Times expose that reported the wealthy president's federal income tax bill was only $750 the year he took office.

"I would expect anybody on that level of operation to be leveraging the tax code every which way they can," Quinn said.

In the 2016 presidential race, Granville County flipped from red to blue after going for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 — one of just a handful of North Carolina counties to do so.

Like the Quinns, Linda Smart and her husband, Henry, left a more populous county, Durham, for the more wide open space of Granville. And, like David Quinn, Linda Smart was not impressed by the performance of either candidate at the first presidential debate this year.

"They were both just antagonizing each other," she said. "They don't tell you what they're going to do, they tell you what the other person isn't going to do or what he lied about doing."

Henry and Linda Smart, at their home in Granville County. The Smarts are registered Republicans who supported President Trump in 2016 and will do so again this year, even though they were disappointed in the performance of both candidates at the first 2020 presidential debate.
Credit Rusty Jacobs / WUNC

But the registered Republican said she is sticking with Trump, even though she confessed to thinking Biden has a more presidential manner.

"I feel bad saying that because I want dignity for the country, I want respect," Smart said, "I want everything else, but most of all I just don't want to go socialist."

For registered Democrat Waltye Blackwell, the debate told her everything she needed to know about the president.

"I was just floored, I just was like 'No way in hell I'm voting for him,'" said the 41-year-old Black, single working mom, who's struggling to make ends meet with her job cutting hair at a barbershop in Creedmoor and three school-aged kids at home doing remote learning.

Waltye Blackwell, 41, who works at a barbershop in Creedmoor, NC. Blackwell is a registered Democrat who had been undecided about who to vote for in this year's presidential race but made up her mind after the first debate.
Credit Rusty Jacobs / WUNC

A couple of weeks ago, Blackwell had not made up her mind yet about the presidential race.

But now she's convinced the Democratic ticket would better protect access to affordable health care and the interests of working class people like her.

"I feel like they'll work harder to get those things done than the Republican Party," Blackwell said.

It's hard to tell whether that view will prevail in a county that went for Donald Trump by just two-and-a-half percentage points four years ago.