Photo Essay Portrait of a Trump Town

During a campaign stop January 9, Donald Trump told supporters in Ottumwa, Iowa that he embraced greed. “I’m a greedy person. I’ve always been greedy. I love money,” Trump told an audience of several hundred southern Iowans. Just ten days after that speech, a report ranked Wapello County—of which Ottumwa is the county seat—the poorest county in Iowa. In other hands, it would have seemed like a misfire. But the crowd laughed, cheered and later stood in applause as Trump exited the stage.

Trump didn’t win Iowa on Monday, but he won Ottumwa—easily, with 592 votes to Cruz’s 494, with a record Republican turnout to boot. The story of Ottumwa’s decline is fairly typical. After the closure of manufacturing plants in the 1960s and 1970s—including the massive John Morrell meatpacking plant, which at one point had more than half the city’s manufacturing workers—the population of the town dwindled from 33,871 in 1973 to 24,488 in 1990. Today, it remains stuck there. Only 16 percent of adults here hold a bachelor’s degree, and in the town, more than one in four children is below the poverty line. The town’s Main Street is a shell of what it used to be, a scattering of buildings with empty storefronts and vacant lots. Traffic lights have been replaced with stop signs.

I grew up in Ottumwa, and while covering the presidential campaign in Iowa was struck by the stark contrast between the bleak prospects of my post-industrial hometown and the brash billionaire politician it loves. “When Trump came to town, something clicked in a new way.”

Excerpt from Politico Magazine