Deep in the belly of an Appalachian mountain, a powerful machine bored into the earth, its whirring teeth clawing out a stream of glistening coal. Men followed inside the Maple Eagle No. 1 mine, their torches cutting through the dank air. One guided the machine with a PlayStation-like controller; others bolted supports in the freshly cut roof.
They were angry. The coal industry that made West Virginia prosperous has been devastated. Every day, it seemed, another mine laid off workers or closed entirely. Friends were forfeiting their cars, homes and futures.
For these men, this season’s presidential campaign boils down to a single choice. “I’m for Trump,” said Dwayne Riston, 27, his face smeared in dust. “Way I see it, if he wins, we might at least stand a chance of surviving.”
Few places in America offer such a simple electoral calculus as the rolling, tree-studded hills of West Virginia.
Even as Donald J. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, lags badly in crucial swing states and loses his grip on white male voters over all, he remains on solid ground here with his promise to “bring back coal.” The fact that his Democrat opponent, Hillary Clinton, said in March, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business,” has helped, too.