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How Voters In Suburban Philadelphia Are Reacting To Trump's Tweets About Baltimore

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Reactions to President Trump's tweets saying people in Baltimore are, quote, "living in hell" and criticizing Congressman Elijah Cummings often cleave along party lines. On the debate stage last night, Democratic presidential candidates condemned the remarks. From a swing district outside Philadelphia, the debate around proper presidential speech is a little more nuanced. From member station WHYY, Laura Benshoff has more

LAURA BENSHOFF, BYLINE: At Jag's Barber Shop in Morrisville, 18-year-old college student Kola Bamgbose is getting a touch-up on his fade. He's studying economics at Seton Hall University and is a registered Republican, but he disagrees with Trump's remarks about Baltimore.

KOLA BAMGBOSE: I wasn't so much offended myself, but I was just like, you can't really alienate parts of the - like, that's still a city in America. And when you're saying that, you're not just really saying it about Baltimore. You're saying it about every poor person in America.

BENSHOFF: When he votes for the first time in 2020, he says he's not sure who he'll pick. Hairdresser Diane Gutierrez and her family run the shop. She's also a Republican and stops cutting Bamgbose's hair to weigh in on the president's rhetorical style.

DIANE GUTIERREZ: I think his intentions are decent. And I don't think that he should have to filter everything he says.

BENSHOFF: Morrisville is in Bucks County, home to one of the few purple congressional districts in Pennsylvania. In this suburban area, Democrats have a voter registration edge over Republicans. But the large number of third-party and unaffiliated voters keeps it in play. And it means people here get to practice talking to people who share different views. Over the course of a day asking voters here about Trump's tweets, opinions ranged widely. Audrey Potter says he reminds her of the corrupt Roman emperor Caligula.

AUDREY POTTER: I mean, I'm 64. I know what presidents look like and sound like. And he is not it.

BENSHOFF: Others say the media persecutes him.

ROBIN KOLODNY: This is a sword that definitely cuts both ways.

BENSHOFF: Robin Kolodny is chair of the political science department at Temple University in Philadelphia. She says divisive language tends to cause people to double down on what they already think. There are some voters willing to change their minds, but Kolodny says it's a relatively small number.

KOLODNY: Most of the discussion is about, is Trump going to turn off some of those suburban, educated white voters? That's the one that, I think, we often focus on as thinking that it's larger than it actually is.

BENSHOFF: Some voters who say they are willing to split their tickets are hanging out at Ned's Cigar Store in nearby Newtown.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

BENSHOFF: Owner Matt Arlen says he tries to focus on local politics because he finds he can have more of an impact than at the national level.

MATT ARLEN: It's not like I'm going to call him up and go, hey, Donny. Look. You know, you really screwed this up, buddy. He's still going to say what he wants.

BENSHOFF: Arlen declined to name what party he's affiliated with, saying he didn't want to be labeled in these polarizing times. But he praised both moderate Republicans and Democrats.

ARLEN: You have to be able to cover both sides. You're not only elected to represent those that voted for you. You're elected to represent everybody in this area.

BENSHOFF: He says he doesn't like it when politicians get into office and forget that's their job.

For NPR News, I'm Laura Benshoff in Bucks County, Pa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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