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Revisiting Voters In Pueblo, Colo.


Most Americans have already made up their minds in this election, their decisions shaped by the last four years and especially the last seven months. Just before the coronavirus lockdown began, I visited Pueblo, Colo., a struggling steel town of about 100,000 people. Pueblo is half-Hispanic and barely went for President Trump four years ago. Today, we've asked three of the people I met on that trip back to tell us how they're feeling now.

There's Michael Atlas-Acuna, president of Temple Emanuel, a synagogue that was the target of a white supremacist bomb plot. Atlas-Acuna is a Jewish Mexican American Trump supporter. Here's what he told me back in February.


MICHAEL ATLAS-ACUNA: There's too much pandering to people of color and women. And I just think that's - to me, the Democratic Party that I used to belong to is no longer that.

SHAPIRO: Then there's Chuck Perko, a union leader for the local steel mill. He told me he understood why his labor brothers and sisters were switching over to support Trump, but he didn't buy the promises.


CHUCK PERKO: When I hear someone say that job at McDonald's is - they don't deserve to make even $12 an hour because they should pick themselves up by their bootstraps and go do something else - those people work harder than I do. I'll be the first to admit it. And they deserve to be paid for their labor.

SHAPIRO: And Mona Montoya, who told me about the changes she's seen as director of the Pueblo Cooperative Care Center, an organization that began as a food pantry.


MONA MONTOYA: It's a middle class now that we're - that are hurting. We've seen people from the police department, fire department, schoolteachers, nurses.

SHAPIRO: Michael, Chuck and Mona joined me earlier today, this time on Zoom. And everyone told me they're feeling the impact of the pandemic and the economic crunch. Chuck's been laid off from his job at the steel mill. Mona is seeing more people than ever coming to her place for food and clothing.

MONTOYA: I mean, our numbers are just going up. The percentage is pretty high. The households that we served in 2019 were 10,268. And right now, as of September, we have served 19,963 households.

SHAPIRO: Wow. So, Mike, you're a strong Trump supporter. Chuck, you are a proud Democrat. Tell me how each of you look at the landscape today and reach a different conclusion.

PERKO: Go ahead, Mike.

ATLAS-ACUNA: Want to go first, Chuck? Oh, I...

PERKO: It's up to you. Yeah, go ahead.

ATLAS-ACUNA: Well, obviously, the landscape is that we're a divided country. But I'm optimistic because I still - we are all Americans in the end, and I think we all want what's best for our country. We just all have, I guess, different ways of how to get there.

MONTOYA: And if I could say something, you know, when you see - when you see a person in need, I don't see a Democrat, I don't see a Republican, I don't see their gender. All I know is these people need our help, and we are not going to turn them away.

ATLAS-ACUNA: Amen, Mona. That's the way I see it.

MONTOYA: Thank you.

PERKO: It's the same with me. I mean, I've got members across the political spectrum. A lot of them believe very differently than I do. And I'm not about to turn away anyone from the help we can hopefully get people with the various services that we provide.

SHAPIRO: The three of you are reminding me what America is like outside of this hyperpartisan campaign bubble, where people care first and foremost about their communities and their families, and the question of who they're voting for for president might not be at the forefront of their mind.

MONTOYA: I just want to say, someone came to my desk one day and asked, what is the meaning of life? Really put me to think. You know, the real meaning of life is us helping each other, our fellow Americans. They have a need, and we're going to help them.

SHAPIRO: You know, earlier this week, I talked to the mayor of Pueblo, and we talked about the fact that Colorado is seeing a spike in coronavirus cases. The pandemic is still in full swing, and it is at your doorstep there in Pueblo.


SHAPIRO: What do each of you think of how the president has handled this pandemic?

MONTOYA: I think not knowing what it was and not knowing the effects of it, I think that he's doing the best he can. I think we all are.

SHAPIRO: Mike? Chuck?

ATLAS-ACUNA: I would agree with that. I think we got hit with something we weren't aware of, and everybody was punting trying to figure the whole thing out. Obviously, in the last six, seven months, look how far we've come. And yes, we're seeing a spike, but we're also doing a hell of a lot more testing. And when you do more testing, you're going to catch more people who have the virus. I think what's important is that fewer people are dying.

PERKO: I have to disagree with that because you can look at other countries that have very similar population demographics to the way we do. They went through shutdowns. They were able to keep their economies going. They were able to put a stop to, in the case of places like Italy, massive infection rates that were far worse than ours. Whereas we - president likes to say he shut it all down, but he didn't. The states shut the various businesses down that were in situations where people were congregating together and spreading the disease, and people complained about it the whole time. Suddenly it became all about individual freedom, and I don't have to wear my mask, and I don't have to do anything that I don't want to do, I don't care about you. And that's all being egged on by a certain individual who is the president. So that's my take on it.

SHAPIRO: So for each of the three of you, what are the stakes in this election? I mean, how dire could things get, or how much could things turn around? Like, what are your hopes and fears right now?

ATLAS-ACUNA: The fact that President Trump has done what he's done with the Middle East and the peace treaties that he has been able to achieve that no other president's been able to, whether they were Republican or Democrat - so I feel like Israel is in a better place, and so my vote stays with Trump. And I think that's our best bet moving forward to be a stronger company - country. I know other countries don't always like us, but that's OK. I don't care if they like us or dislike us, as long as they don't mess with us. And that's what's important to me.

MONTOYA: Yes. I couldn't have said it any better. One of my fears is I just don't want America to become a socialistic country. I believe in capitalism.

PERKO: Well, so do I, but unfettered capitalism is not a good thing either. The labor movement is on a shoestring here, and if Donald Trump gets elected again, we're done.

SHAPIRO: You know, it strikes me that the three of you have such different political perspectives, and yet you all share this idea that you need to be there for each other and for your community above all else. In a country that is so divided right now, do you have any advice for people who can't get past that partisan divide and can't see the humanity in people they disagree with that you three so clearly see?

ATLAS-ACUNA: Stop putting people into categories, is first of all. And then I think when we stop putting people into categories and just look at us as human beings, then I think we're all going to be better off. And I think the three of us, while we all have different political perspective, I'm going to have a - sit down and have a cup of coffee with you guys and talk and be respectful to each other. But I think that's the beauty of Pueblo. I came from Southern California 45 years ago, and I - that's the first thing that struck me was how wonderful people are in Pueblo and how welcoming they were when I came to this community. And I feel the same way. When I - new people coming to Pueblo, man, I welcome them with open arms.

MONTOYA: I have an awesome opportunity to come to work and help the less fortunate in our community, and I am very thankful for that. And I am just so proud to say I am an American, and I live in Pueblo, Colo.

SHAPIRO: Mona Montoya, Chuck Perko and Michael Atlas-Acuna of Pueblo, Colo., it's great to talk to all three of you again.

Thank you.

MONTOYA: Thank you, Ari.

ATLAS-ACUNA: Thank you.

PERKO: Thanks, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.