A couple hundred people showed up to Wednesday’s conservative rally in Elma, featuring former Trump Administration chief strategist Steve Bannon. For most Western New Yorkers, it was their first time seeing Bannon in person.
“I’d like to see, probably another 35 or 40 percent of the place with guys like [Assemblyman David] DiPietro,” said Hyde Hitchcock, who lives in Lackawanna.
Hitchock had never listened to Bannon until a few of his friends urged him to come to Wednesday night’s rally. He said he thinks Trump has a handle on things in Washington, but wants to see more done.
“Want to talk about living in the Rust Belt? From my house sitting on the porch, I can look at Bethlehem Steel, I can look at Republic Steel, I can look at Ford Motor. Where are the jobs?" Hitchock asked. "Still building cars. Somebody is getting their steel someplace.”
“I support Donald Trump and everything that he’s done and I’m hoping that the Republicans can keep this going. This tidal wave,” said Wales Center resident Mike Lewandowski. “The president has got a good agenda, as far as it goes with getting the economy going, keeping the border safe and working on health care. That’s my top three."
Lewandowski said he believes Democrats are preventing Trump from fulfilling his agenda.
“It’s just funny that you watch some of the news and that one time they are supporting the border wall, but then just because Donald Trump wants it, now they don’t. It’s just crazy," Lewandowski said. "We just need the government to work again.”
Elma resident Dawn Rutkowski said she attended partly because she is still deciding on who will get her vote. She said immigration is the biggest issue for her.
“I don’t necessarily agree with everything Steve Bannon has to say, but I don’t think he should be shut out of places to say what he has to say,” Rutkowski said.
A small group of protestors lined up across the street from the fire hall. One of them was Elma resident Denice Daley, who said she needed her voice to be heard.
“You see it happening and you think, 'Oh, that really doesn’t impact me' and then you find out that there’s a rally right down the road from you, where that hate is being welcomed in," said Daley. "That’s what’s upsetting me and that’s a large part of why I am here.”
Daley said people in Elma don’t talk to each other usually about politics.
“I feel like people don’t talk about anything. Maybe that’s part of the problem, too. People don’t talk politics and they just sweep it under the carpet and that’s upsetting, too," she said. "We put our rose-colored glasses on and we look the other way and we think things are just fine, but obviously things are not fine. If we don’t come here and make it known that we don’t think things are fine, then we are allowing it to continue.”
Another protestor was Reform Party candidate Larry Piegza, who stood with a life-size cardboard cutout of Rep. Chris Collins (R-Clarence) in prison attire. Piegza said he would like to see Republican voters make an ethical decision.
"If they had just endorsed any other candidate except Chris Collins, there's no question I wouldn't be running right now," Piegza said. "But it's because they handled it so poorly that I really decided I wanted to make a statement that Chris Collins has gotta go."
Bannon’s nearly 30-minute speech set out to mobilize local Republicans. Talking with rally-goers like Hugh TentHagen as they exited, it sounds like he succeeded.
“I was at delivering door hangers out a couple of weekends ago," said TentHagen. "I have more to do down in Warsaw and Wyoming County.”
Jaff Barbeau of Clarence Center talked about plans to go door-to-door advocating for Trump. He said the GOP has lots of support in Clarence, but need to spread their message further.
"I don't just stay in Clarence," Barbeau said. "When Trump was running, I also went down to Pennsylvania to support Trump in Pennsylvania.”
“I believe in Trump. I believe he’s taking the country in the right direction and I love what Steve Bannon said. He’s right on,” said Grand Island resident Jim Daiglar.