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In Buffalo, Iowa, a community wrestles with Trump-fueled political apathy

Joe and Alisha Bartleson play with their children on the swing set in their yard in Buffalo, Iowa. They think Donald Trump is the best Republican candidate to take on Joe Biden in 2024.
Franco Ordoñez
/
NPR
Joe and Alisha Bartleson play with their children on the swing set in their yard in Buffalo, Iowa. They think Donald Trump is the best Republican candidate to take on Joe Biden in 2024.

BUFFALO, Iowa — A majority of Iowa's Republican voters say they're sticking with former President Donald Trump, even after their popular governor said he couldn't win — and endorsed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Trump is so far ahead in Iowa polls that some voters in Buffalo, Iowa, a small riverfront community down the Mississippi River from Davenport are starting to feel a bit apathetic about the upcoming caucuses.

"It just seems like it's a done deal," said John McBride, who was walking his two dogs near his house. "It's not even close."

But Trump's lead is also causing some anxiety among those who worry about his general election electability challenges.

Judy's Barge Inn is a popular watering hole in Buffalo, Iowa along the Mississippi River.
Franco Ordoñez / NPR
/
NPR
Judy's Barge Inn is a popular watering hole in Buffalo, Iowa along the Mississippi River.

Michelle Stone, 62, sits around a high top table at Judy's Barge Inn, with her husband and two friends.

The retired logistics dispatcher worries about Trump's poor "bedside manner" and says Iowa Gov. Kim Reynold's endorsement carries a lot of weight with her.

She likes Trump a lot, but she fears he's too divisive and can't beat President Biden in a general election.

"My heart just tells me that if he...," she said, cautiously, before pausing. "We could have a chance to lose. I would love to have him. But sometimes I think, maybe, we need another Republican in there to win."

Her friend, Darla Chaddock, 61, just doesn't agree.

She too loves Reynolds, but the retired registered nurse says she's sick and tired of career politicians. She insists the country was better off under Trump.

"She's the best for Iowa," Chaddock agreed of Reynolds.

"I think Trump, being a businessman, is the best for the United States," she added.

It's a debate that is playing across this hamlet of about 2,000 people where the regular trains serve as a soundtrack of the town.

The community is split between those who love Trump and those who don't, according to Mary Moore, a registered Democrat who serves on the local city council.

"Even in my own family, we've got big Trump supporters," she explained. "It's more Trump or anti-Trump than Trump or Biden."

Moore was leaning toward supporting Tim Scott until he dropped out.

But she emphasizes those who love Trump, really love him and will go out of their way to support him.

She doesn't think there are nearly enough other voters to stop him from winning the Republican nomination.

"It certainly seems like right now that's who is going to win the Republican nomination," she said.

"But I don't want it."

She's not alone.

McBride says he'd pick almost any of the other Republican candidates, but the 62-year-old small business owner thinks Trump has the nomination wrapped up. He's trying to convince his wife of that as well.

"My wife was watching the debate and I said, 'honey, why are you wasting your time,'" he said. "And she goes well, 'what if Donald Trump has a heart attack?' And, I said 'honey, he's not going to have a heart attack. He's going to be our nominee.' "

Around the corner, Joe Bartleson and his wife are also taking a second look at DeSantis after the Reynolds endorsement.

Bartleson, 34, says he's always kind of liked DeSantis.

"He's kind of like Trump, he says what's on his mind," he said. "That's how most working class are. I'm not going to give you a line of bull crap."

But his wife, Alisha Bartleson, 34, says that doesn't mean they're ready to support DeSantis.

She turns to check on her two young daughters on their swing set while her son speeds down the slide before sharing the feelings of a lot of people here in Buffalo — and in Iowa.

"Her saying that makes me want to get to know more about him," Alisha Bartleson said of Reynolds' endorsement of DeSantis, "but as of right now, Trump will get our vote."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.