When he was in elementary school, Dan Pigott just happened to be visiting Washington with his parents in 1973 as the Watergate hearings were underway. He managed to get a seat to watch history unfold.
That memory was particularly resonant Thursday night when Pigott watched the opening hearing as another special congressional committee unveiled evidence of what it said was then-President Donald' Trump's “attempted coup” on Jan. 6, 2021, when he beckoned supporters to come to Washington as part of the challenge to his 2020 election defeat.
“I think what this administration did is far worse. We all see what happened," said Pigott, 58, a Democrat who lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, north of Philadelphia.
His was hardly a consensus view, however.
Others among more than a dozen voters interviewed — in coffee shops, stores and by phone — dismissed the hearing as “rubbish,” or simply did not watch.
But opinions in Bucks County, a blend of rolling farmland and densely packed well-to-do suburbs, matter more than most places because it is one of a small cluster of areas in the country where both major political parties are still competitive. And few states will be more central to the midterm elections, with highly competitive races for the U.S. Senate and governor.
The Jan. 6 riots are certain to play a prominent role in both. The Republican gubernatorial candidate, Doug Mastriano, was seen outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, and has supported Trump's assertions that the election in 2020 was marred by voter fraud. The GOP Senate nominee, Dr. Mehmet Oz, was endorsed by Trump.
The depth of political fallout will be measured in the coming months. Republicans so far have tried to parry criticism of Trump for the riot by emphasizing rising inflation — consumer prices climbed 8.6% in May, the worst reading in more than 40 years — and blaming Democrats. The competition will be for that narrow band of voters who remain persuadable.
Bucks County is closely watched precisely because it has an ample supply of swing voters. It sided with Democrats in the presidential contests in 2016 and 2020, but helped reelect GOP Sen. Patrick Toomey in 2016 and sent Republican Brian Fitzpatrick to the House in 2016, reelecting him in 2018 and 2020. President Joe Biden carried the county by more than four percentage points over Trump in 2020.
In the interviews, Democrats said they wanted to see Trump held accountable. Republicans said the hearings amounted to a concocted excuse to persecute the former president.
Others simply had tuned out. One woman who declined to give her name said she was on her way to work with a coffee and doughnut bag in hand. Asked about the hearings she looked momentarily confused. “The what?” she asked.
“I hope that it is impossible to ignore the evidence that they come up with," Pigott said. "I believe and I don't think this is original but 40% always vote on the Democratic side and 40% on the Republican so it’s the 20%. Is it gonna impact them? I’m hoping it does.”
Ron Soto, 84, a retired truck driver from Langhorne, is an immovable Trump supporter. He sounded aghast that anyone would tune into the hearing. He was watching Fox News, he said, which talked about the hearings, but didn’t air it.
“Who would watch that rubbish anyway? All they’re trying to do is isolate Trump and pick on all of his friends,” he said. “They want to find him guilty of something.”
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