CANONSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA — It was a sweet afternoon in Western, Pennsylvania, where Donald Trump Jr. visited Sarris Candies with Republican House candidate Rick Saccone in tow.
Like Friday night’s rally that was also purportedly for Saccone, the afternoon was really all about Trump, who toured the store and factory, snapping selfies with workers and tasting chocolates while Saccone occasionally politely encouraged shoppers to cast a vote for him in Tuesday’s special election.
The pair visited the candy shop, Sarris Chocolate Factory & Ice Cream Parlor, which is owned by Trump supporters. Athena Sarris, 86, who owns the shop, said in an interview with ThinkProgress that she supported Saccone simply because she thought he was “the better candidate.”
“To be honest with you, it’s reasons that are here,” Sarris said, pointing to her heart. “It’s just something I feel.”
Sarris and her husband, Frank, opened the shop in the 60’s. According to Sarris, her husband was working as a forklift driver and came home one day and said he wanted to make chocolates.
“We were broke,” she said. “It’s the American dream. Sometimes I can’t believe that we did this.”
Since the tax reform bill passed last December, Sarris has hired 80 new employees, according to Trump, but Sarris did tell ThinkProgress Monday that many of their employees are seasonal.
“The girls, a lot of them, work all through the season and they’re off in the summer and they collect unemployment,” she said.
Sarris Chocolates owner Athena Sarris. CREDIT: Addy Baird
Trump was in town just days after his father came to the district to support Saccone. In 2016, less than a year and a half ago, Trump won the district by 20 points. But now, recent polls have Saccone up by just single digits. Others have him trailing Democrat Conor Lamb.
Saccone and Trump toured the factory, donning hair nets and chatting with the women making and boxing chocolates. Trump did most of the talking, joking with workers that they shouldn’t get “high on their own supply,” and near the end of the tour, encouraging them to come out to the polls and vote for Saccone Tuesday.
While the tour was supposed to be private, only for Saccone, Trump, and the throng of press who joined them Monday, one man tagged along. Tony Ross, 72, is a retired steelworker who lives in the district. He told ThinkProgress in an interview that he remained undecided about who to vote for just one day before the election.
Ross blended in with the press corps and toured the factory with Trump and Saccone, but he said Monday the trip didn’t help him make his decision at all.
“I think there’s just too much emphasis put on this Trump, Trump, Trump,” Ross said after the tour. “This ain’t about Trump. This is about our local legislator running for the Congress.”
Ross, who voted for Clinton in 2016, said that the most important thing to him is a candidate who stands with labor, who will protect social security, Medicare, and other programs from which he benefits. While he has heard that from Lamb, he said he is holding out to see if Saccone will say the same.
Notably, on Friday, more than 300 members of United Steelworkers rallied with Lamb in downtown Pittsburgh, and the fact that union leaders have stood behind Lamb is something Ross said is important to him. But Ross also said he’s seen Democrats wooed by PAC money and that they’ve drifted away from labor and other issues he says are important to him.
“[Saccone] has to be put on record and held accountable,” Ross said of what the Republican could do to sway his vote. “I don’t want any of these wishy-washy, go either way, ‘Well, I didn’t say that, I didn’t mean that, the media misquoted me.’ After 50 years of this stuff, come on, you get a bad taste in your mouth. You don’t trust them.”
But having Trump on the trail, Ross said, isn’t helping Saccone secure his vote, because his years in the steel mill have made him distrust corporate America, too.
“They’ll take your socks and shoes if you give it to them,” he said. “They’ll leave you standing there in your underwear. They don’t care. That’s corporate America.”
Sarris, the owner of the shop, told ThinkProgress Monday that she has her own problems with Trump and the way the special election has played out, despite welcoming them into her factory.
“I hate, hate negative ads. I can’t stand it,” Sarris said, “I’m tired at looking at negative from either side. Either side. They’re just terrible. They’re not right. They shouldn’t be allowed to do that.”
Sarris said she’s frustrated about the ongoing Stormy Daniels story, too.
“With this girlfriend crap, it’s terrible. I’m not voting for you because you ran around, I’m voting for you because I like your policies and that’s it,” she said. “And Trump helped. He certainly helped me. But this negative stuff should stop.”
After their tour of the factory, Trump Jr. and Saccone both got ice cream. Trump Jr. got two scoops. Saccone got one.