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Diners don’t lie: At bellwether Bucks eateries, the talk is Trump – and it’s happy chatter ahead of midterm elections | Maria Panaritis

Republicans still love Trump. And that may be unwelcome news for Democrats angling for a bloodbath next month.

Janice Chmielinski works the counter at at Suburban Diner in Feasterville, Pa., on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2018. President Trump still draws positive chatter among customers to the suburban Philadelphia diner, even heading into the 2018 midterm elections.
Janice Chmielinski works the counter at at Suburban Diner in Feasterville, Pa., on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2018. President Trump still draws positive chatter among customers to the suburban Philadelphia diner, even heading into the 2018 midterm elections.Read moreMARIA PANARITIS / Staff

Forget what the pollsters are saying about who will win what in next month's elections.

Turn off the chatter-blatherers on cable TV, too.

Allow me, instead, to introduce you to the staff at the Suburban Diner in Feasterville. For they, like the barbers and bartenders to whom we pour out our personal secrets, have come to know the soul of ordinary voters in bellwether Bucks County.

And what they have been hearing over the last few months may be unwelcome news to Democrats.

After two years of President Trump's tempestuous reign, it would be premature to think that Republicans will sit out next month's elections while liberals storm their polling places in droves.

At least, that's according to the foolproof polling system known as Overheard Diner Conversations in Trump Country.

I drove to the Suburban Diner this week because it is neither a Starbucks nor a battered bar serving Bud Light, wings, and 24/7 Fox News.

This diner not too far from Northeast Philadelphia is as Middle America as you'll find in the suburbs of Philadelphia: A still-kicking Greek-owned joint wedged between a Jiffy Lube and Advance Auto Parts on that low-glam strip known as Street Road.

I had picked the Suburban for a drive-by after meeting a lawyer in Jenkintown on Tuesday morning and hearing him tell fellow professionals at an event I attended that he had been gobsmacked by a conversation he had heard at another Bucks County diner, in nearby Southampton, the day before.

He was eating breakfast, he said, among a group of maybe 10 men and women. All were talking politics. The overwhelming vibe from the others: All were happy with Trump.

Very happy.

These are the same voters, in the same sliver of Trump Country, in the same county where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by only about 10,000, whose adoration of the real estate magnate helped push Trump past Democrat Hillary Clinton in his historic White House win in 2016.

>> 2018 VOTERS' GUIDE: The races and candidates in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware

The polls, you may recall, did not see that one coming.

"I was shocked by how much support Trump still had," the lawyer later explained to me. I asked whether I could quote him. He said OK, but only if I kept his name out of the paper. He didn't want to be run out of the diner. I agreed; why ruin the man's breakfast routine?

The group, he said, had consisted of retirees, as well as men and women working blue-collar jobs. Their refrain: "I've been working. Things are good. Everybody has jobs."

This caught my attention because I had just spoken to a GOP operative about how things were looking heading into next month's elections here in Pennsylvania.

Democrats are expected to sweep a ton of newly redrawn congressional seats. Many are not very competitive after the state Supreme Court redrew the boundaries to make them less gerrymandered. These races are less fascinating to me.

It's the state legislative contests that have my attention. Democrats are mounting high-energy challenges for seats across the state, trying really hard for the first time in many years to win tons of posts in the Republican-controlled state House and Senate.

Folks on the left are predicting high turnout among people who hate Trump. If Democratic voters come out as hoped, they imagine a bloodbath in Harrisburg.

But the Republican operative, who sounded grim only a few months back, said things were now looking up. He told me that recent polling in Southeastern Pennsylvania suburban races now show Republican intensity matching that of the Democrats. Many GOP voters, in other words, are now saying they are much likelier to vote in November than they said they were earlier this year.

The chatter in the Suburban Diner seems to capture this element.

Waitress Janice Chmielinski and diner owner Nick Sotiros both told me that almost every conversation they hear involves an outspokenly supportive Republican. The Dems? If they're noshing on a BLT, they're keeping mum.

"I had a lady, came in the other day," Sotiros told me, "she just hates Democrats" — and, as he explained, didn't keep that to herself.

Janice, a waitress who has worked the counters and tables at the Suburban for 28 years, said Republican enthusiasm is more subdued than it was during the presidential race. They may not like Trump's personality, but they like the way their lives are looking under his presidency with a robust economy.

"They're getting used to him," Janice told me. "They're looking at policies that are advantageous to them — Social Security, Medicare."

Then, holding her hand about eye level above the counter, Janice offered one more assessment: "His approval rating seems to be … medium."

I’ll take that over any poll, any day.