Politically speaking, the Central Valley is a pretty red region in our mostly blue state. So, with the most controversial candidate in memory at the top of the GOP ticket, I wondered how Republican voters in the valley are feeling.
I figured I should start with agriculture. It’s the biggest industry here, and farmers tends to lean Republican. I ended up in William Bourdeau’s truck, driving down a gravel road in Coalinga, surrounded by bare fields.
"These fields have produced many, many crops over many years," Bourdeau said, listing off a dozen fruits and vegetables. "But they're all fallow now." Bourdeau is vice president of Harris Farms, one of the largest agricultural outfits in the state.
Back in his office, Bourdeau told me his biggest concern this election is water. Like most farmers around here, he says he needs more of it. And going without has a toll.
"It's very difficult for people that are hard-working," he said. "They want to work, but if you can't provide a job because you don't have the water, there's nothing you can do."
He blames state and federal regulators for prioritizing the environment over agriculture. And he’s made up his mind about which presidential candidate will change that. On the wall he’s got a photo of himself smiling next to Donald Trump. He’s got quite a few Trump signs, too.
"I've met with Trump three different times," Bourdeau said. "We had a very frank conversation. He was able to incorporate what we talked about into his speech that he delivered to thousands of people. He’s very impressive."
When Trump held a rally in Fresno in May he told the crowd: "We have a water problem that is so insane. It is so ridiculous. If I win, believe me we’re gonna start opening up the water so you can have your farmers survive." He got huge cheers.
Trump has been to the valley twice in the past few months, and has broken fundraising records. Clinton hasn’t been here since before the primary.
The next place I went looking for people to talk to about politics was the Big Fresno Fair. I found Democrats and Republicans in the crowd, including one Republican man who was not keen on Trump. Anthony Hill was drinking a beer with a friend near the food stands. He said it bothers him that the nominee has no political experience.
"I mean, I’m conservative," he told me, "but it’s Donald Trump. He needs to go back to 'Celebrity Apprentice.' "
I also met a guy named Steven. He asked me not to use his last name, but he told me he grew up in a small town here in the valley and he was raised Republican. "I may be Hispanic, but I'm American," he said. "The U.S. flag is my flag. The Mexican flag is not my flag. That’s just how I see things."
Steven said that’s why he’s not bothered by Trump’s comments about Mexican rapists and his hard-line stance on immigration.
Steven’s not exactly advertising his support for Trump, though. "I keep it a secret," he said, "because being from the valley, being brown and being openly gay and voting for Trump is not the thing. It’s not!"
I told him I thought a rural Central Valley town would be a fairly conservative place. So he explained: "Because in the valley, it's mainly Latino. That's what it is." The Central Valley does have a big Latino population -- and one that’s growing. And Latinos overwhelmingly vote Democratic.
Still, at my next stop -- a naturalization ceremony in Fresno -- I met a Mexican immigrant who also supports Trump. Israel Cervantes is an industrial mechanic who has lived in the United States for 25 years. Now he finally feels like he has a voice in the political process."I feel like I'm fighting for what I want," he told me. "I want security. I want safety. I want peace. I want strong leadership."
Cervantes also says he doesn’t believe in abortion, and he doesn’t want to see a Democrat choose the next Supreme Court justice.
But Cervantes’ 19-year-old son, Isael, raised some doubts. "He's impulsive, quick to anger," the younger man said of Trump. His dad jumped in: "Yeah, but, he was not a political guy! He’s a Hollywood guy, like Ronald Reagan."
Cervantes said he wasn’t troubled by allegations that Trump had mistreated women. He and other Central Valley Republicans feel their candidate is getting a bad rap. And they care more about the issues anyway.