Despite the inflammatory mixture of fact, fear and lies that has woven its way deeply into America’s body politic, there are few signs of significantly shifting attitudes in the heartland on who should be elected the nation’s president in 2020.

The critical states that gave President Donald Trump the margin of Electoral College victory in 2016 are again uncertain, as thorny issues such as tariff-induced trade wars, immigration contretemps and the Mueller investigation have rattled voters.

Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa and Pennsylvania – with their collective 70 electoral votes – could again decide if Trump is given a second term or if the nation moves to whomever the Democrats select from a field of 23 wannabe challengers.

It depends on who you talk to in those states.

Depressed corn and soybean markets could make a difference in rural areas, which went all in for Trump last time, some say. Whether that concern is sufficient to offset the perceptions of an otherwise rosy economy is anyone’s guess.

Another important factor is the political tenets of the eventual Democratic nominee. They range from far left to moderate among the aspirants.

These are general impressions of the current political landscape in more than 20 Rust Belt, Midwest and Southern states served by CNHI newspapers that have participated in the company’s periodic “Pulse of the Voters” project since the 2016 election.

Pennsylvania in play

Of the must-win states, Pennsylvania seemed most susceptible to swing from Trump to Democrat. Native son Joe Biden’s entry into the party’s swarm of candidates has so far made a difference. The most recent state polls showed Biden leading Trump by 11 points.

Dressed in a gray polo shirt with a United Mine Workers of America logo, John Kline spoke from his dining room table in Nicktown, onetime mining and steelmaking citadel in western Pennsylvania. He said Biden could break Trump’s stranglehold on rural voters in the state if he runs from the political middle and strives to end partisan bickering by bringing people together.

“I believe moderate people – Democrat and Republican – drive this country,” said Kline. “Extreme left, extreme right, you can see what’s going on around us.”

Brothers Jim and John Ferguson, retired math teachers, sat drinking coffee and talking politics outside a café overlooking Scranton’s Courthouse Square in northeast Pennsylvania. They agreed Trump could lose the state and said they’d gladly vote for Biden if he wins the Democratic nomination.

Jim Ferguson said he’s bothered by the president’s penchant for lying and contradicting himself and his subordinates.

Still, he added, the president’s core isn’t giving up on him. “The sheer number of Democrats running to challenge Trump is making it difficult for opposition to the president to consolidate behind one candidate.”

Among that core is Jackie Leon, owner of Headhunters hair salon in Scranton. A Democrat-turned-Republican, she voted for Trump in 2016 and likes him cracking down on liberal immigration policies. “There’s some bad people,” she said. “You’re getting killers and everything.”

Trump’s message won’t move Marissa McIntire, 24, mother of a toddler and a pro-choice advocate. She said defeating Trump “is not an option, it’s a necessity – for women everywhere, for minorities everywhere, for everyone whose voice over the past almost three years now has just been muted.”

Drake Parker, 54, also of Meadville, doesn’t buy the argument that as a black voter he should reject the president. He said he voted for Trump last time and expects to do so again.

“I’ll get backlash for that,” said Parker, president of the local NAACP chapter. He said Trump voters are willing to put aside his character – “which leaves much to be desired, and the way he carries himself” – because of the strong economy. “He’s done a phenomenal job, in my opinion,” said Parker.

In the farm states of Iowa and Ohio, polls show Trump remains popular with steadfast Republican voters, but the pain that his tariff war with China has caused corn and soybean producers may take a toll.

Recently, Iowa’s longest-serving Republican legislator, state Rep. Andy McKean of Anamosa, changed his party affiliation to Democrat in response to what he called Trump’s “unacceptable behavior” and “reckless spending.”

Iowa, New Hampshire in February

The Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses will provide the first breakdown of the top-tier Democratic candidates. Those who do poorly traditionally drop out for lack of money. Biden, polls show, is currently favored to emerge with the plurality of the caucus votes.

Eight days later, on Feb. 11, New Hampshire stages the nation’s first presidential primary, an outsized contest in a small population state where walking about, door-knocking and pressing the flesh rather than flashy ad campaigns can determine the outcome.

The winner will get a momentum boost but not necessarily enough to capture the Democratic nomination. In 2016, Bernie Sanders outpolled Hillary Clinton by 22 points only to lose the race in the end. Trump likewise won decisively in New Hampshire, and the push carried him all the way to the White House despite losing by 2,000 votes to Clinton in the state’s general election.

Traditionally a Republican state, New Hampshire has leaned more Democratic in recent years. Currently, the state’s U.S. senators and two House representatives are Democrats. The governor is a Republican.

Ruby Shabazz, an African American Democrat from Nashua, New Hampshire, said she wants a presidential nominee who can foil Trump’s re-election bid. She said Trump has set race relations in the country back decades.

Midwest, South strong for Trump

The CNHI survey of voters in the heart of the ruby red Midwest and South showed sustained strength for Trump. Small town and rural voters see him as a president who has stood up for their belief in God, guns, jobs and a Mexican border wall.

“He’s rallied the American spirit,” said Christopher Halvorson, 32, interviewed at a gun store in Beckley, West Virginia. “He’s making America better. We don’t need other people coming in, taking over what is ours.”

Mary Humphreys, who lives 70 miles east of Beckley in Union, West Virginia, has turned on Trump. She’s a registered independent who voted for him in 2016, but now feels she was deceived by his campaign promises of lower taxes for hard-working folks and a better life for struggling counties.

There are outspoken Trump critics in Kentucky and elsewhere in the South even if opinion polls and political traditions don’t reflect it. One example is Billy Ray Wilson of London, who believes Trump should be impeached for committing serious crimes.

“He has caused damage to this country,” said Wilson. “He has no regard for the people, he has no idea what the Constitution is.”

Wilson made his comments as a 20-year veteran of the Air Force, a decade as a contractor in the Middle East, and six years in the Department of Veterans Affairs. That public service, he said, underscored the importance of the separation of church and state in the U.S. Constitution.

Evie Adams, 19, a cosmetologist from Union, Mississippi, will cast her first presidential vote. She expects candidates for the highest office in the land to be honest. “They need to do good things for people but they also need to be realistic,” she said. "I feel like some of them are trying a little too hard by promising free college and health care. Is that realistic?"

Patty Wilkes, a psychotherapist in Athens, Alabama, said mental health issues and gun control need to be considered together. “We need more available, intensive, serious psychotherapy to catch people before they even want to buy a gun,” she said. “It’s not just gun control. It’s mental health care with gun control.”

Texas could be in play

Midterm election results hint Texas could be in play in the 2020 presidential election. Former Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rouke lost by less than 3 percentage points to incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in a statewide race, and Democrats flipped two GOP seats in the state’s congressional delegation. The results showed that rural and small-town Texas is still solid red, but the growing urban centers are blue and their suburban neighbors are trending that way.

Dara Llorens, 49, Palestine, Texas, agrees the country needs fixing, and she doesn’t care if it is a Republican or Democrat who leads the charge. “We need to unite,” she said. “There’s too much infighting. We need to stop these investigations and work together with what we have moving forward.”

The child of a Mexican immigrant father and an American mother, Llorens opposes a border wall, favors immigration reform and wants expanded education opportunities for the disadvantaged, including fixing the student loan debt problem.

In Huntsville, Texas, retired oil field worker Lynn Alexander mirrors the Lone Star State’s Republican dominance. The Democrats, he said, “need to get out of the way” and let the president implement his agenda of a southern border wall, economic growth and rejection of stricter gun control laws.