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Trump voters in Pennsylvania face distress and disbelief: ‘I don’t ever remember feeling so devastated’

For many Trump supporters, Biden’s narrow victory in the state felt especially disorienting because Trump significantly increased his turnout this year. But Biden also improved upon Clinton's turnout.

Marcy Templeton and her son Devin, 16 from Penn Township leave the "Trump House" with souvenirs in Latrobe, Pa.,Thursday, November 5, 2020
Marcy Templeton and her son Devin, 16 from Penn Township leave the "Trump House" with souvenirs in Latrobe, Pa.,Thursday, November 5, 2020Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

LATROBE, Pa. — For the last five years, Leslie Rossi’s red, white, and blue-drenched Trump House, with a 14-foot metal cutout of the president looming over the front lawn, has been more than a roadside attraction.

It’s been a hub of grassroots support for President Donald Trump, with Rossi registering voters and distributing campaign merchandise. It’s been a place of community for conservatives in this rural area east of Pittsburgh, with wedding parties stopping by and long-lost friends reconnecting after chance encounters.

And on Saturday, when Joe Biden became president-elect with a win in Pennsylvania, it was a place for mourners to gather and skeptics to compare notes on what they saw as a fraudulent election.

By Saturday evening, the Trump House visitor book had six pages of fresh entries from Saturday. Many who came by were crying, Rossi said.

“Men, too. Not just women,” said Rossi, 50, who was a delegate to the Republican National Convention. “Obviously, we’re seeing a lot of people that are distraught, that are in disbelief.”

For many Trump supporters, Biden’s narrow victory in the state felt especially disorienting because Trump significantly increased his turnout this year. (Turnout, however, surged overall, with voters also showing up more for Biden than they did for Hillary Clinton.) They have watched — and attended — Trump rallies across the state, seeing thousands of people cheering him on.

In Westmoreland County, for instance, Trump won 64% of the vote this year, with Biden taking 35%. Blowout victories there and in other rural counties across the state weren’t enough, however, to overcome Biden’s smashing margins in cities and across the Philadelphia suburbs, along with Biden making small inroads in other areas he still lost.

» READ MORE: 6 takeaways from Biden’s win over Trump in Pennsylvania

The incongruity of the surge in excitement for Trump that Rossi saw here and his loss in the state overall fueled her suspicion about the outcome, and about mail ballots, which Democrats used more than Republicans.

“I know what I saw here and I know what I am seeing,” she said, “and it doesn’t jibe.”

There is no evidence of significant fraud with mail voting. But Trump spent months casting aspersions on the method.

In McCandless, a suburb of Pittsburgh, Republican Penny Lyon has voted for countless presidential candidates who didn’t win. But the 75-year-old said the disappointment she felt Saturday over Trump’s defeat is unparalleled.

“Normally, I would think, ‘Well, that’s the way it went. The people have spoken.’ This time is different,” said Lyon, her voice cracking as she broke down in tears. “I don’t ever remember feeling so devastated. And I know I’m not alone. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.”

Pamela Kroh, a Latrobe resident, is worried that Biden, who has promised to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energies, would hurt her husband’s coal business.

She’s also dealt with intra-family political squabbles. Kroh said she attempted to prevent her daughter, a Biden supporter who lives in London, from voting by mail, at first by delaying forwarding her daughter’s ballot, which was sent to their home in Latrobe. Then she intentionally omitted the international stamps she knew she’d need.

“We had had an argument about it," Kroh said. "She kept saying, ‘I didn’t get it.’ And I said, ‘I know. I didn’t want to mail it to you.’ And she said, ‘Well, you have to.’”

» READ MORE: A Pennsylvania town once known as ‘communism on the prairie’ is all about Trump now

Biden’s victory wasn’t entirely bad news for one Trump supporter in Latrobe. Mark Boerio, who owns the Army & Navy Surplus Store and Indoor Pistol Range, expects Biden’s win to be good for business. The pandemic and mass protests against police brutality, Boerio said, have already driven up sales this year, leading to shortages of certain types of ammunition across Westmoreland County.

“There will definitely be an uptick, no doubt about it.” Boerio said "With Trump there, people are relaxed, knowing he wasn’t really a big gun-control kind of guy.”

Trump supporters held a demonstration in Harrisburg on Saturday. But many of the president’s backers emphasized in interviews that, unlike what they described as protest-prone Democratic voters, they had no plans to take to the streets because their candidate lost. Widespread fears of the unrest that could follow such an emotionally charged election went unrealized, at least so far.

Lynette Villano, 74, is a Trump supporter from West Pittston, in Luzerne County, whose lawn is covered in dozens of Trump signs. Her car is also decked out with a lifelike cutout of Trump in the backseat. But even as a superfan, life goes on, she said.

“Whatever happens, we’ve got to get up and go to work," she said. “We’re not going to be out in the streets protesting. That’s the whole part of it. We accept it. It’s what we do in America."

Villano, who works for the Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority, said that when it comes to divisions, it’s the Democrats in her family who have excommunicated her. She said that despite being disappointed, she harbors no ill will toward Biden supporters.

Several close family members — a sister, a brother, her daughter — no longer speak to her, she said.

”It’s always the people who don’t like Trump are the ones severing the ties," she said.

Rob Acquisto, 43, of Kingston, also in Luzerne, said that despite his neighborhood being very split politically, he doesn’t think there will be any outbursts or confrontations.

”It’s an older community. There’s more respect for other people’s ideas," he said. “So I’m not fearing for my life.”

Acquisto said he does fear for the nation more broadly.

“The whole ‘American First’ thing. Is that so terrible to say?” he said of one of Trump’s political mottoes. “For some reason, in today’s age, it is, and I think we have to get back to it. There’s nothing wrong with loving your country and saying we’re more important than anything else.”

» READ MORE: Joe Biden’s hometown celebrates: ‘We’ve got a president from Scranton, Pennsylvania!’

On Saturday afternoon, Larry Almoney was doing yard work outside his Hellam home, and had not yet heard that Pennsylvania had delivered Biden a victory in the presidential race.

“Oh, hell,” said Almoney, 74, after being informed by a reporter the election had been called for Biden. “Those people down in the Philadelphia area did us in.”

Hellam is a town of about 6,000 on the Susquehanna River in York County, which cast about 62% of its votes for Trump. Biden, he said, will be bad for Pennsylvania.

“Biden made a lot of promises he’ll never be able to keep,” said Almoney, a retired computer programmer. “I think we’re in for a rough time.”

Almoney said he supported the president’s decision not to concede the race and to pursue legal challenges over states' handling of the election. But he said he didn’t believe there was a role for Trump supporters going forward.

“I guess there’s not too much we can do,” he said.

Nonetheless, many Trump fans said they won’t give up on the movement he started.

“Donald Trump is the Republican Party," Villano said. "He has changed the Republican Party and he will remain leader of the Republican Party.”

And Rossi has no plans to take down the decorations and displays that brought international attention to Latrobe.

“It’s always going to be the Trump House,” she said.

Staff writer Jessica Calefati contributed to this article.