Thousands of Democrats requested Republican ballots for the Ohio primary in Mahoning County. The local Republican Party chairman told CNN he had dozens of callers asking to vote for Donald Trump.
Mark Monroe, chairman of the Mahoning County Republican Party in Youngstown, Ohio, said he was shocked when over twice as many Republicans went to the polls on March 15. The last time a Republican had a chance in Mahoning was Richard Nixon in 1972. This year the primary's Republican turnout reached 34,000, a good sign for Trump, who received over 17,000 votes.
"I nearly fell off my chair because there were only 14- or 15,000 Republicans in Mahoning County," Monroe told CNN.
18 county Democrat officials lost their positions after Dave Betras, their chairman, fired them for joining the GOP. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton won Mahoning with 60 percent of the Democrats' votes. Less than 200 Republican voters switched parties to vote in the Democratic primary.
Betras said he doubted the Trump voters would overwhelm the Democrats. He claimed the locals were too "sophisticated" to be swayed by Trump.
"I know these people will come back," the Democratic chairman said.
Monroe had high hopes for Trump. He said that the Republican candidate could win Mahoning County, a small success that Monroe believes will signal a national victory for the GOP.
Trump showed his appreciation for the county's support:
Debbie Taylor, one of the Democrats who changed sides, said she wasn't an immediate Trump supporter, but she changed her mind as his campaign continued.
"I was one of the people that never, never thought he would have the temperament or the ability," She said in an interview with CNN. "The more he talked and the more everybody said, 'He's not a Republican, he's not a Republican,' it started to hit me. He's an American."
Taylor noted that Mahoning County is not what it used to be. The population decreased after unemployment rose when Youngstown's steel mills began closing in the late 1970's. Trump's "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan resonates with the area's population of 67,000 people.
"Donald Trump said he wants to bring things back," said Denny Zimmit, the grandson of a steel mill worker who died after losing his pension in his 70s. "He's going to bring things back and I believe that we all have to take a little bit of concessions somewhere along the line to bring back our steel, to bring back our trades."