In swing state Ohio, are workers still on Trump's side?

Lordstown (United States) (AFP) - In the Rust Belt state of Ohio, where Donald Trump unexpectedly earned significant support in 2016, some voters are wondering why the "greatest economy in American history" is passing them by.

Workers for General Motors spent more than a month on the picket line here, carrying signs and huddling around makeshift heaters -- fires in oil drums.

A deal has been struck, but the assembly plant in Lordstown -- where GM made Chevrolets -- is still idle, despite last-ditch attempts to tie the new contract to a guarantee that the complex would reopen.

Some 1,600 jobs have vanished.

"We don't ask to be millionaires, but we don't ask to be poor either. We want to live our middle-class lives. This is what this fight is about," said one former plant worker, Joey, who didn't give his last name.

- 'Betrayed' -

Trump's ultimately successful run for the White House three years ago was based in part on a promise to restore the "greatness" of America's working middle class.

In Ohio's Trumbull County, the longtime Democratic stronghold where Lordstown is located, Trump won in 2016 -- the first Republican to do so in more than 40 years.

But with one year to go before Election Day 2020, some of those who supported him say they feel betrayed.

"That's the first time I've ever voted Republican and... he probably won't get my vote again," said Sam, another auto workers who was laid off.

Larry, who retired after 50 years of working for GM and supported his onetime colleagues during their strike, said he felt "very disappointed and betrayed" by the real estate mogul-turned-president.

"I cannot support him because when our plant was closed, he didn't do what he said he was going to do by putting tariffs on foreign vehicles," he told AFP.

"He will not get the vote in the area," Larry said. "I know I won't be voting for him."

- American dream now 'a circus' -

Mike Yakim, who describes himself as socially conservative, says he's not yet sure how he will vote in 2020. But he still likes what Trump is saying.

"When he first came out, he said that he was going to be for the American worker," Yakim said. "And we believed in that promise. In fact, I kind of still do."

Like 700 other workers in Lordstown, Yakim agreed to be transferred to another factory in order to keep his job.

He will now live in Lansing, Michigan -- a four-hour drive from home. His family will remain in Ohio.

This is the third time that Yakim has worked in a factory that was shut down. He doesn't try to hide his bitterness.

"We missed out on a lot of stuff to keep a job and pursue the American dream, which is to work for a company, hopefully stay there for 30 years, get your pension and go," he told AFP in his home.

"Now, you know, the American dream is like a circus. They pull up the stakes and you go."

- 'A little bit lower' -

In 2017, at a rally in nearby Youngstown, Trump promised that the jobs would come back to the region.

"Don't move. Don't sell your house," he said.

The world's largest economy has churned along during Trump's time in office: unemployment tumbled to a 50-year low in September.

"The Greatest Economy in American History!" he tweeted on Wednesday.

But US manufacturing is on a downturn. It recovered slightly after the financial crisis that ended a decade ago, but the damage was done.

Ohio lost 3,500 factories from 2001 to 2011. Employment in the state is still 10 points below pre-crisis levels.

Lordstown Mayor Arno Hill expresses his frustration at the town's inability to buck the trend.

"In northeast Ohio, whenever the economy goes down, our economy goes a little bit lower than everybody else and I don't know why," he told AFP.

"And when the economy comes back up, we never come back to where we were before we went down."

- New opportunities -

Hill, himself a former factory worker, is trying to recruit new employers.

TJX -- the company that owns retail brands such as TJ Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods -- is building a distribution center just a few yards from the GM plant, but there will be fewer, lower-paying jobs.

As for the idle GM plant, it will likely be sold to a company making electric trucks.

Last May, Trump welcomed the news on Twitter.

"GREAT NEWS FOR OHIO! Just spoke to Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, who informed me that... GM will be selling their beautiful Lordstown Plant to Workhorse," he wrote.

"With all the car companies coming back, and much more, THE USA IS BOOMING!"

But the new workers will likely have fewer benefits than those accorded to GM's staff -- or their salary of $31 an hour.

Those who dislike Trump say the billionaire president lied when he made promises to bring back the American industry including coal.

"None of that is coming back. It's just a big lie that was told to our people," said retired GM worker Sonny Morgan.

The Democratic Party is setting its sights on Ohio for 2020, and hoping to recover some of the votes it lost when Trump defeated Hillary Clinton.

"There's the old saying: as Ohio goes, so goes the nation," said Todd Belt, a professor of political science at George Washington University in the US capital.

"So Democrats really want to put together some comprehensive industrial policy. We've had a lot of Democrats talk about jobs."