French journalists visit ‘Trump Country’ in Cullman, Winston counties

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Cullman County Republican Women Chair Jacqueline Schendel and Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullmn look on as Sebastien Duval and Bastien Inzaurralde film an interview with Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill Tuesday evening. (Photo courtesy of Steve Cummings)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Sebastien Duval, a Washington D.C.-based reporter for Agence France Presse (AFP, French Press Agency) and video journalist Bastien Inzaurralde visited Cullman this week on a search for conservative voters, admittedly not a difficult task. Along the way, they visited the Ave Maria Grotto and the Cullman County Fair, and sat in on a meeting of the Cullman County Republican Women where they met Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman and Secretary of State John Merrill. Visiting with the women’s group chair Jacqueline Schendel, they even got to meet Schendel’s mother, a French native in Cullman from Louisiana after the recent hurricanes.

After the media was blamed for reporting that did not represent citizens away from major centers like Washington and New York during the 2016 election, Duval set out to find the voice of small town America, especially in “Trump country.” His search for conservative hotspots revealed a bright red glow in Cullman and Winston counties in Alabama. While the people he found here were worried about possible portrayal in the media as “hillbillies,” Duval reported that they were friendly, hospitable and willing to talk.

Overall, he regarded his visit as a “very positive experience,” saying, “It was my very first time in Alabama, and the southern hospitality is not a legend! People were very welcoming and friendly. We’ve seen a fair amount of people and many, many positives.”

He added, “I’ve been to the South before, and I know I like the slower pace of life compared to D.C.- a good break away from all the craziness that’s happening at the moment in this city.”

Duval sought to discover how “a billionaire from New York, very provocative” could appeal to “very conservative, very religious” rural southerners “with moral values; how could they support someone who’s very different from them? What I got from the people I talked to was, ‘Well, we are not voting for a person; we’re voting for what he stands for,’ and he happens to defend those values that people cherish in Cullman County or in northern Alabama. The people tend to give a priority to a politician who’s going to defend their ideals, rather than the person himself.”

In terms of issues, Duval found that, for most of the Cullman and Winston County voters he talked to, Trump’s support of the pro-life movement is the deciding factor in their support.

He also noted, “Nobody mentioned weapons and the Second Amendment. I expected a bit more. I haven’t seen anyone carrying weapons, so from what I expected, I was a bit surprised. You can see that religious values are very strong.”

Duval heard from several voters who appreciated the direction of the U.S. economy under President Trump and who said no politician from the Democratic Party would have done any better responding to the challenging COVID-19 crisis. A big thing for a lot of Cullman/Walker voters, according to Duval, is Trump’s outspoken personality and willingness to speak his mind without regard for the “establishment.”

Duval did not say when his story will be published, but interested readers can keep an eye on www.facebook.com/AFPnewsenglish or www.twitter.com/afpusa

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(Left to right) AFP video journalist Bastien Inzaurralde and reporter Sebastien Duval visit Ave Maria Grotto with Br. Christopher McBride Tuesday morning. (Photo courtesy of Roger Steele)
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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com