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Skepticism, Relief, Hopefulness: Tennessee Trump Voters React To 2020 Election

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Calling the election for Joe Biden drove some of President Trump's most devoted supporters into the streets in protest. But among Republican voters in Tennessee, where Trump won nearly two-thirds of the vote, there's also more quiet concern, regrets and even a bit of relief. Blake Farmer of member station WPLN starts his story at an NFL game in Nashville.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Welcome to today's game against the Chicago Bears.

BLAKE FARMER, BYLINE: Outside the Tennessee Titans Stadium, the conversations were not just about football. For longtime fan Mary Martin, tailgating took on a more somber tone.

MARY MARTIN: I don't know that I have been this sad since President Kennedy died. That was a sad time in my life, and I am that sad this time. I am.

FARMER: Martin says she's concerned about her grandchildren and that the country may be headed toward socialism. She chose not to watch President-elect Biden's acceptance speech, but she heard about his pledge to unify the country and is skeptical.

MARY MARTIN: It just seems strange to me that they want to bring people together now, and they haven't for the last four years.

FARMER: She says she'd really like to have a civil conversation with her neighbors with yard signs for Biden and air her concerns. Some of President Trump's voters are more encouraged by Biden's unifying message and his conciliatory demeanor. Kellie Gillespie drove in an hour from her rural community to see the game. She's wearing a shirt she had made that says Tannehill-Henry 2020. Those are her favorite Titans.

KELLIE GILLESPIE: This is probably our best hope right now, though.

FARMER: Gillespie says she voted for Trump despite her misgivings. Now she says Biden's talk about fairness is putting her at ease.

GILLESPIE: I'm relieved that there's some kind of decision, if that makes sense (laughter). I don't think there's closure to it, but there's a decision.

FARMER: She expects some sort of controversy to erupt before Inauguration Day. Many here wonder whether Trump will concede, but still they're diagnosing how he lost.

Vinny DeMaio is building one of the many new hotels in downtown Nashville but calls New Jersey home, and Trump had his full backing.

VINNIE DEMAIO: Because I believe in America first.

FARMER: But that economic focus was lost in all the chaos, DeMaio says.

DEMAIO: And he's more like a kid on Twitter with sending out these stupid comments all the time. If the man were to just shut up and ran the country, things would have been a little bit different, I think.

FARMER: Not all Trump voters are ready for the autopsy just yet, though.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Illegal votes - that's what we're mad about.

FARMER: Many rallied at the Tennessee capital Saturday, shortly after the election was called by media outlets, including what's been Trump's favorite network.

CAROLYN HARPER: I do not believe in Fox News anymore.

FARMER: Carolyn Harper of Tullahoma, Tenn., wore a handmade shirt saying stop the steal.

HARPER: When they do their recount, and they allow both Democrats and Republicans to watch this recount, and then I will listen to what the Supreme Court has to say.

FARMER: Losing, as even the president said, is never easy. Andrew Eastin of Columbia, Tenn., was waving a Trump 2020 flag on the steps of the state capitol. He says he's not accepting defeat just yet, but when the time comes, he also says Joe Biden will get his support.

ANDREW EASTIN: If we're all on an airplane, and I don't like the pilot, I'm not going to throw him out the door, OK? He's my president. He's commander in chief. Trump, Biden, Hillary, Obama - whoever it is, that's a very respected office of being the most powerful person in the world.

FARMER: To say someone you didn't vote for is not your president, Eastin says, would be losing something foundational in American democracy.

For NPR News, I'm Blake Farmer in Nashville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.