Inside a political battleground: The issues on voters' minds

  • A billboard endorsing Donald Trump is seen outside Scranton, Pa. on Sept. 11, 2016.
  • Mary Dippolito, a coal miner’s daughter, has lived in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. her whole life.  ”I think it’s all the media making things up and they’re both dragging each other down.”
  • Lori Skinner has been homeless for about 10 years. “I don’t vote so I’m not interested.”
  • A run-down storefront is seen in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. on Sept. 12, 2016.
  • The Clinton-Kaine campaign headquarters of Wilkes-Barre, Pa. are seen on Sept. 12, 2016.
  • John Bartleson has lived in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. for nine years “I always wanted a rebel flag to put on my bike and ride around Wilkes-Barre. My cousin has an American flag on his bike. I wanted a rebel flag.”
  • Kenneth L. Ketchum said, “I think we all agree that we can’t see any good coming from this election. Nothing is going to change for me or my friends. It’s not like anything they say is going to happen.”
  • Preston Perkins, seen here sitting on steps, has lived in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. all his life. “I’m on the wall about both of them. One of them should be in prison and the other is a racist. I want Obama to stay president.”
  • Michelle Wright has lived in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. for three years. “I’m not hopeful that things will change. It’s not like the economy is suddenly going to get better or our lives are suddenly going to improve.”
  • Joseph Thomas of Forty Fort, Pa., just outside Wilkes-Barre, Pa. “We will have a new leaders in November. I don’t think Hillary or Trump will be any different but I guess I will vote for Hillary.”
  • Sartorio & Sons Barber Shop in downtown Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Aldo Sartorio, seen here cutting hair, ”Keep our country safe and a good economy. That’s what I hope.” Ray Lowery, seen here getting his hair cut, said “Fight terrorism and make our economy grow.”
  • Bishara Hamlet, seen here in a black head scarf, and Sumayyah Chesson at Luzerne Community College. Hamlet said, “Equality for religion. You have to accept people and their religions for who they are.” Chesson said,  ”Equality. I want everyone treated equally no matter where they come from.”
  • A voter registration event at Luzerne Community College welcomes back students event at the school organized by a Hillary Clinton campaign office in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
  • Dereck Swingle said, “My issue is who we have to vote for in this election. I can’t trust either one. I’m going to write in a name of someone else.”
  • Amanda Brooks said,  ”I can’t choose between the two candidates. They’re both bad.”
  • Donald Trump supporters outside an event in Aston, Pa.
  • Ivanka and Donald Trump in Aston, Pa. where they outlined Trump’s proposal on childcare on Sept. 13, 2016.
  • Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump supporters clash outside a Donald Trump event in Aston, Pa. on Sept. 13, 2016.
  • Ivanka and Donald Trump in Aston, Pa. on Sept. 13, 2016 where they outlined Trump’s proposal on childcare.
  • A Donald Trump supporter with “Deplorable For Trump” sign is seen outside a Donald Trump event in Aston, Pa. on Sept. 13, 2016.
  • Donald Trump supporters are seen outside a Donald Trump event in Aston, Pa. on Sept. 13, 2016.
  • Ivanka and Donald Trump in Aston, Pa. on Sept. 13, 2016 where they outlined Trump’s proposal on childcare.
  • Donald Trump supporters outside a Donald Trump event in Aston, Pa. on Sept. 13, 2016.
  • Colleen Stouch, seen here on the left, and Tricia Stouch hold a portrait of their sister and daughter, respectively, who died of a heroin overdose, Aston, Pa. on Sept. 13, 2016.
  • Hillary Clinton campaign headquarters are seen here in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. on Sept. 14, 2016.
  • Debbie Noon says, “Climate change. It’s important to move on that as a nation and also make it a goal with other nations and get everyone on board.”
  • Hillary Clinton campaign headquarters are seen here in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. on Sept. 14, 2016.
  • Debra Skripkunis says, “Education, and especially the cost of higher education. I don’t think we should start our students with so much debt.”
  • William Kouame says, “Education should be free for poor families so people can get ahead without all the debt.”
  • A miners statue at the closed Lackawanna coal mine, which is now a museum, in Scranton, Pa. in Lackawanna County, Pa. on Sept. 14, 2016.
  • A press conference is given by union workers in Dunmore, Pa., in which they called into question Gov. Mike Pence’s record on workers. Pence was visiting a factory in the area.
  • Ken Klinkel says, “The future and how we leave things for future generations. I am more concerned by who becomes a Supreme Court Justice and how that changes the future for our children and grandchildren.”
  • A tractor-trailer truck with an ad for Donald Trump outside of a rally in Scranton, Pa.

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With less than two months until Election Day, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s campaigns have focused considerable attention on Pennsylvania, a crucial swing state in the 2016 election.

Luzerne County, in Pennsylvania, is a mostly Democrat metropolitan area. It’s one of seven counties in seven battleground states that could help deliver a win to either candidate.

The city of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania—population of 41,200, as of the 2010 Census—sits in Luzerne County, the largest city situated alongside Scranton and Hazleton. At the height of its prosperity, the Wilkes-Barre’s burgeoning economy depended on hundreds of thousands of immigrants and nearby coal reserves—new ground for an expanding workforce. Its Wyoming Valley once held the largest anthracite coalfield in the U.S. 

But today’s mining industry is not what it once was. The city on the Susquehanna River has a 6.7 percent unemployment rate as of April 2015, with the job trend moving toward sales and administrative work, and a median household income of $44,430. The walls of the local Clinton-Kaine campaign headquarters display signs showing Asian-Americans, LGBT-Americans, and Slovak-Americans “for Hillary”—they call for “Diversity not Division” and reaffirm one of three Latin phrases on the Seal of the United States: “E pluribus unum,” out of many, one

Outside Wilkes-Barre, but still in Luzerne, Scranton’s closed Lackawanna coal mine is now a museum.

Along a road outside of Scranton a billboard plainly reading “TRUMP” sprouts up from an open field, advertising a local diner on its alternate side. It’s the town where the Republican presidential nominee and his daughter, Ivanka, announced his campaign’s proposal on childcare on Sept. 13, as Clinton and Trump supporters—self-proclaimed “deplorables”—clashed outside the venue. 

Photographer Mark Peterson shot his way through the county, speaking with locals about those issues with the highest stakes for them. In his work, he found Colleen and Tricia Stouch holding a portrait of their sister and daughter, respectively, who died of a heroin overdose. John Bartleson rode his bike and “rebel [Confederate] flag” around town. A rundown TV repair store sat boarded and unused. Preston Perkins perched on the steps of his home, on which three American flags hang, wishing President Obama could serve just one more term. Muslim American students at Luzerne Community College hoped for religious equality under the next commander-in-chief. And a coal miner’s daughter proudly displayed her crochet American flag.  

It’s a landscape that appears both varied yet seamless, an example of the diversity that the population will bring to voting booths on November 8. If nothing else, it will be a muted Election Day for a county in which races between Republicans and Democrats already often run neck and neck. A common sentiment encountered along the way of this project was one of apprehension.

“I think we all agree that we can’t see any good coming from this election,” began Kenneth Ketchum, echoing the thoughts shared by many of the other residents photographed. 

These photographs were shot on assignment by Mark Peterson for MSNBC Photography as part of his on-going body of work, Political Theatre” which looks at the landscape of the American political system, published by Steidl 2016.

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