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From hope to disappointment, Amherst reactions mixed on presidential election

From hope to disappointment, Amherst reactions mixed on presidential election

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After four years of feeling traumatized during the presidency of Donald Trump, Madison Heights resident Gloria Witt resident could finally exhale upon hearing the news Joe Biden is set to become the country’s 46th president in January.

“It’s a beautiful moment,” said Witt, highly active in leading the county’s local chapter of the NAACP. “We’ve gone through a lot as a country and the people have spoken.”

Vance Wilkins, chairman of the Amherst County Republican Committee, said Monday he feels a Biden victory is premature to celebrate until all the votes are counted and certified. He fully supports Trump contesting the results of the election and Wilkins believes claims of voter fraud should be investigated and tried in the court system.

“I’ve been through two recounts myself,” said Wilkins, a former Virginia Speaker of the House.

He said he lost one past recount and won another, each by fewer than 100 votes.

“You have to have confidence in the election [process],” Wilkins said in ensuring the validity of the results. “The courts are going to have to decide this.”

Janice Gripp, of Madison Heights, supported Trump but said if a Biden presidency is what the electorate decided, then she is “not going to be angry with things.”

She just hopes the country will not divide further and that no rioting erupts in the aftermath of the election as many have feared.

“It’s been a rough year and we just need to move on, whatever the outcome is,” said Gripp.

Amherst County heavily supported Trump at the polls as 11,053 voters, or 64.9%, cast their ballots in hopes of reelecting the businessman to a second term, according to the Virginia Department of Elections. Biden received 5,680 votes, or 33%, among county residents.

Republican Daniel Gade, an Iraq veteran who challenged U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, received 10,639 votes, or 62.8%, of the vote in Amherst County while Warner pulled in 6,275 votes, or 37%, on his way to picking up a third term in Congress.

U.S. Ben Cline, R-6th District, received 11,732 votes, or 69.5%, in Amherst County over Democratic challenger Nicholas Betts, who received 5,114 votes, or 30%. Trump, Cline and Gade swept all of the county’s precincts except for the provisional category, the only to go in favor of the Democratic candidates.

Amherst County, which typically leans Republican, gave Trump 9,719 votes in 2016 while Hillary Clinton received 5,057 votes across the county that year, according to the Virginia Department of Elections website.

This year 17,027 votes were counted in the presidential race in Amherst, compared to 15,396 four years ago, a 10.5% increase.

Jeff Rowe, of Amherst, was among those in the county backing Trump. He said he is concerned about voter fraud affecting the outcome and said he feels Democrats blatantly don’t care.

“I’m disappointed in the election process right now,” Rowe said.

He said he supports Trump’s legal challenges and recounts but if the president comes up short “it is what it is.”

“We’re never going to see the last of Trump, no matter what happens,” Rowe said.

Rowe said while he feels Trump could use restraint at times he is much pleased with his leadership the past four years.

“His policies are some of the best I’ve seen in a while,” Rowe said.

Beverly Jones, a retired educator in Amherst County Public Schools, said she was excited watching history made with Sen. Kamala Harris set to become the country’s first female and Black vice president.

“I live in a Republican stronghold, but my vote counted and I’m proud to be an American,” Jones said.

Wilkins said if Trump does come up short in legally contesting the election results he hopes he continues in politics, adding he’s been good for the economy, appointing conservative judges on the U.S. Supreme Court and foreign policy decisions.

“I love what he’s done,” Wilkins said. “He gets things done.”

Alan Wood, a former Madison Heights resident of 20 years who recently moved to Augusta County, is a Libertarian and said he supported neither Trump nor Biden.

“It looks like to me it’s over,” Wood said Monday of his assessment of where the race stands, adding a Biden victory doesn’t surprise him. “I was actually more surprised how close it was.”

He said the county is too polarized and a major problem with government is the two-party system of Republicans versus Democrats.

“They’re still working for the same people, the rich and the powerful,” Wood said. “I refuse to vote for Republicans and Democrats.”

Addie Brown, a senior at Amherst County High School, said she was excited to vote for the first time Nov. 3.

“It’s been just kind of rewarding to finally participate rather than following along,” Brown said.

COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement are major issues gripping the country, she said in voicing hope America can come together. She feels Biden would be a “president for everybody.”

Witt said she believes Americans who voted for Biden want fairness in areas of health care, economic opportunities and education.

As a Black woman, she said watching Harris speak Nov. 7 was “the American dream” and reinforces that women are capable of leadership in the highest offices in the nation.

“We have been the winds under the wings of many movements,” Witt said of women. “I love it. I’m proud. It’s a wonderful day to be a Black woman in America or a woman. Period. I’m so hopeful for our country.”

News & Advance reporter Sarah Honosky contributed.

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