Deep in 'Trump Country,' Alabamans hope he'll win 90 percent or more
A solemn prayer rings out in a wood-paneled courtroom in Winston County, where Donald Trump won a resounding 90 percent of the vote in 2016.
Republicans in this conservative bastion in northern Alabama say they hope God will allow the president -- a man so unlike them in so many ways -- to do even better this time.
Their prayer finished, they turn in unison to the flag hanging at the room's entrance to recite the traditional Pledge of Allegiance, voices full, hands on hearts.
It is the last meeting of the local Republican Party before the November 3 election, and it includes an a-cappella rendition of "God Bless the USA," a rousing country anthem that has become a staple of Trump rallies.
"We're seeing the sentiment for Trump in our area is larger than it was four years ago," said Greg Farris, a lawyer, businessman and vice chairman of the county's Republican party.
"So we think we'll have a higher percentage than we did last time. Will it be 100 percent? Probably not. But we think it'll be in the 90s."
Winston County, as the many campaign signs lining its wooded roads attest, is most definitely "Trump Country."
The surrounding congressional district gave Trump his largest percentage in 2016 -- a statistic its residents cite with pride.
"He has good Christian values," said Sandra Wright, secretary of the county Republican Party, wearing a red T-shirt with the message: "Keep Calm and Vote Trump."
- Bible Belt -
Winston County is in the heart of the so-called Bible Belt, a region known for its Christian conservative values.
Here, the foothills of the Appalachian mountains are dotted with the white spires of small churches, many of them evangelical.
Confederate flags are seen in the occasional yard, and local monuments pay tribute to soldiers killed in the Civil War, the 1861-1865 conflict fought over the South's determination to maintain slavery.
The population is overwhelmingly white, and people say they prize hard work, religion and family.
Trump is so assured of winning the county that Republicans there have trouble believing national polls showing him far behind Democratic opponent Joe Biden.
- Friendly competition -
Winston County is in a sort of friendly competition with nearby counties such as Cullman and its 84,000 residents, where Trump also ended up with a Soviet-like score in 2016: 88 percent.
Steve Cummings, chairman of Cullman's Republican Party, said: "88 percent is a lot. It's hard to beat that. But I think we can do better than 88. I really do.
"We just like his leadership skills," he said. "That's what attracts us to him.
"We like people who speak plainly, just say what they think."
Cummings came up with the idea for signs in Spanish -- "El Presidente Trump" -- to reach out to Hispanics, many of whom work in area poultry plants, hoping to have his county finish ahead of Winston.
- 'Greatest president ever' -
At the Cullman County fair, signs of the president's popularity are everywhere.
Stands selling Trump hats, flags and T-shirts bearing provocative slogans are nestled among carnival rides and stalls hawking corn dogs and boiled peanuts.
Many in attendance wear cowboy boots -- while fewer wear masks against the coronavirus.
Alongside his wife Deanna and four of their six children, Tommy Wisener said he thinks support for Trump in the county surpasses 88 percent.
"It's a strong Republican area. And Trump is the greatest president ever," said Wisener, a cheerful man in his 40s who works in quality control in the auto industry.
"He's a man of the people. All the things that he promised to do before he went in office, when he was campaigning in 2016, he's accomplished those things and many more."
Katie Harrison, arriving from work still in her nurse's uniform, waits in line to buy food after posing her two children next to an almost life-sized cardboard version of a smiling Trump, both thumbs up.
"He's doing what he thinks is best for the country and not for himself," she said.
"I know people in Cullman who are Biden supporters and that's fine. I don't have any problem with that. This is what America is all about.
"That's one of the great things about living in Cullman: We don't judge people."
It is difficult, though, to find any Biden supporters around here.
And two hours before the county fair closes, the Democratic party's booth already stands deserted.