By Kayla Epstein
BBC News, Pennsylvania
Tina Jordan, 55, was "totally against" Donald Trump for president in 2016.
A registered Democrat in the crucial swing state of Pennsylvania, she went for Hillary Clinton, though Mr Trump ultimately won the state that year, delivering him the White House.
But in 2020, Ms Jordan changed her mind and voted for Mr Trump because his presidency, she confessed, coincided with "the best I've been in a long time, financially."
She will "probably vote for Trump again" if he runs in 2024, she said – two years into Joe Biden's presidency, Ms Jordan didn't think he was "in touch with small business owners" like herself.
Pennsylvania is the top prize in this year's November midterm elections, with Democrats fighting to gain a seat in the US Senate and keep a candidate who backs Mr Trump's false claim that the 2020 election was stolen out of the governor's mansion.
Mr Biden, who has long touted his middle-class Pennsylvania roots and made his ties to the state a part of his political identity, has been trumpeting his economic record there.
At a speech in Philadelphia this month, he declared that "today, America's economy is faster, stronger than any other advanced nation in the world".
But despite the boasts coming from Washington, in small town Pennsylvania, positive economic change seems a long way off. That disconnect could spell trouble for Democrats.
The party has borne the brunt of Americans' fury over the soaring inflation, and insiders have warned that voters must be convinced the economy is improving if Democrats hope to stave off major losses in the midterms.
Though the president's party scored policy wins in the final weeks of summer – passing long-sought climate legislation that, they claim, also addresses inflation, and announcing student loan debt relief for millions – Democrats are expected to lose the majority they hold in at least one chamber of Congress.
Those policy wins aren't yet connecting with voters like Ms Jordan, who told BBC News that rising prices had cut into her profits.
Ms Jordan's concerns about her financial stability were echoed by voters throughout Pennsylvania, with Biden and Trump supporters alike concerned about the continued high cost of everyday living and disillusioned with leaders in Washington.
"You got a lot of folks in Pennsylvania that are worried about what's right in front of them," said Mustafa Rashed, a Philadelphia-area Democratic strategist. "It's harder to get people involved in the voting process. You're competing with their attention with pocketbook issues."
In late August, Mr Biden announced that he would cancel $10,000 or $20,000 in federal student debt for borrowers whose income fell below a certain threshold. The White House said the move would provide relief for millions, particularly low and middle-income households.
Around the same time, Democrats passed the Inflation Reduction Act; while the name was meant to show Democrats addressing inflation, the bill actually pumped billions of dollars into climate change initiatives, raised taxes on the wealthiest Americans, and helped lower prescription drug prices for seniors who use the government's Medicare program. At a 13 September White House celebration, Mr Biden proclaimed that the bill would "cut costs for families, helped reduce inflation at the kitchen table".
Gas prices, a political liability for Mr Biden, are slowly going down. The party is taking a victory lap, believing now that they may fare better than expected at the polls.
Despite the optimism, in August, prices were 8.3% higher than at the same time last year, according to the Consumer Price Index.
Republicans have hammered Democrats in local races over inflation and the cost of basic necessities, trying to pin blame for a complex economic issue on the party in power. Polling has shown voters trust Republicans over Democrats to handle economic issues. A Politico/Morning Consult poll conducted from 16 to 18 September found 46% of registered voters trusted Republicans in Congress on the economy, compared to 38% who trusted Democrats (16% weren't sure, or didn't have an opinion).
Dr. Mehmet Oz, the Republican candidate for US Senate in Pennsylvania, has made the economy central to his argument. He claimed on Twitter that Mr Biden's "reckless spending has increased the price of everything…We need to reverse Biden's failed agenda and focus on restoring America's economy ASAP."
Conservative arguments have already resonated with voters like Ms Jordan, who BBC News met as she sold spices and cooking ingredients at the Westmoreland County Labour Day craft fair.
"People have not been buying as much. Prices go up. Shipping cuts into profits," Ms Jordan said. "I end up losing money."
She believed she'd qualify for Mr Biden's student debt relief plan and that the extra money would allow her to live more securely. She felt gas prices coming down. But due to higher cost of living in general, she no longer felt like she was on an upward trajectory.
Until now, "every year we do better than last year," Ms Jordan said. However, this year had been the worst ever for her business.
Two hundred and thirty miles northeast in Wilkes-Barre, Raheem Armitage, a 32-year-old nursing assistant, was going through similar economic pains.
Also a Democrat, Mr Armitage voted for Mr Biden in 2020 and believed the president had "done a lot of good".
But rents in his area have soared due to inflation and an influx of new, wealthier residents who relocated during the pandemic, Mr Armitage said. He recalled finding two-bedroom apartments in Wilkes-Barre for around $800 just a couple years ago. Now, he said, he pays $1,050 for a two-bedroom flat, an amount roughly equivalent to one of his bi-weekly pay cheques.
Healthcare eats up about 10% percent of his monthly salary. He had not gotten a pay rise in two years, even as inflation sent the cost of basic needs soaring. Over the first weekend in September, he resorted to protesting along with a dozen other members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) for better pay and benefits.
"Gas prices are so high, they're up and down. And then, are these jobs going to start paying more?" asked Mr Armitage. "It's sad and frustrating."
Though Mr Armitage was politically engaged as a union member, he had not yet tuned into the gubernatorial and US Senate races for which his party so desperately needed him to turn up at the polls. Basic cost of living issues took up too much of his attention.
"Every night I'm wondering how I'm going to survive the next month," Mr Armitage said.
Recent polling shows that Democrats' midterm prospects have improved since the party's late-summer policy spurt. They have gotten a boost since the fall of Roe v Wade made abortion access a major election year issue. Surveys taken in Pennsylvania consistently show the Democratic candidate for US Senate, John Fetterman, and governor, Josh Shapiro, running slightly ahead of their respective Republican rivals, Dr Oz and Doug Mastriano.
But, Mr Mustafa cautioned: "It will not be a landslide."
Voters like Ms Jordan and Mr Armitage will tip the scales.
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