Women are a key demographic for President Donald Trump. In 2016, he lost the overall women’s vote. But he won with white women and with white women without college degrees. This year, the Trump gender gap has widened, from around 11 points in 2016 to 14 points in the latest Quinnipiac poll of Ohio voters, and Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden is leading with women by much more than that in key states such as Michigan and Wisconsin.
President Trump has been trying to appeal to suburban women on the campaign trail lately. “Suburban women, why don’t you like me? I saved your damn neighborhoods," Trump said at a recent rally.
Julie Collins of Westerville, a suburb of Columbus, is quick to answer Trump's question.
“His view of suburban women is absolutely ridiculous and outdated. You know I am an African American woman. I live in the suburbs," Collins says.
Another suburban Columbus woman, Meredith Lawson-Rowe, seems equally benused by the President's comments to suburban women. Lawson-Rote is a member of the Reynoldsburg City Council.
"I believe our current president in his description of suburban women is a bit antiquated. The suburbs are much more diverse than he would have us believe," Lawson Rowe says. The area she represents, east of the city of Columbus, has become more diverse over the past couple of decades.
Julie Womack is an attorney who lives in Mason, a suburb of Cincinnati. She says Trump doesn't understand women like her.
“ I really do think in his head that he has this stereotype of a suburban woman and I think it is very insulting to our intelligence because I see him lie again and again about things that are just blatantly obvious and he just keeps repeating them, expecting that we are buying into that and it’s just kind of crazy," Womack says.
In recent weeks, Trump aired an ad that showed an older woman on the phone with 9-1-1 as someone is breaking into her home with a crowbar. She gets a pre-recorded message telling her her call would be returned later because the police department lacked funding. Trump has hammered on this point at rallies too, saying he’s the one women should trust to keep them safe. But that the message is not resonating with some of them.
Amy Mercer of Mason says she is insulted by Trump's message.
"We have friends from different backgrounds and different skin colors living next door to us so the implications that are not veiled that he’s throwing out there that our suburban homes and neighborhoods are suddenly going to become dangerous because black and brown skinned people are going to infiltrate. I mean that’s just nonsense," Mercer says.
But Trump’s message hits home for some suburban women who have been supportive of his policies.
Delaware resident Dedra Bingley used to live in Texas. She said unauthorized immigration made her former town unsafe.
"I’ve seen what it does to communities that are middle class where people move out of cities to try to get away from crime that takes over," Bingley says.
Bingley says she also agrees with Trump on his gun control policies.
Trump’s law and order message also appeals to Cindy Patrick of Delaware who plans to vote for Trump the second time around.
Patrick's husband is a retired police chief.
"The law enforcement was a big deal to me. Him supporting law enforcement is a huge deal to me. My husband just retired. I thank God every day that he is retired right now," Patrick says.
Patrick says she believes Trump truly loves this country and will do all he can to keep it safe.
While Patrick and Bingley voted for Trump in 2016 and want to re-elect Trump, some women who were with him last time say they’ll vote for Biden this time around. And they emphasize they are voting FOR Biden and not just AGAINST Trump.
That includes Erin Rosiello, who went from voting for Trump to running as a Democrat in a longshot race against incumbent Republican state Rep. Scott Lipps.
She says she voted for Trump in 2016 because she liked the fact that he wasn't a typical politician. But once he was in office, she says his ineptitude showed.
“We want to protect our families not from each other. We want to protect our families from COVID. We want to protect our families with health insurance and good education, not from each other," Rosiello says.
Kaitlyn Rabinovitch lives in Euclid, a suburb of Cleveland. She voted for Trump in 2016 and says she had buyers remorse almost immediately. And during this pandemic, she says she's done a lot of thinking.
“I had a lot of time to look into stuff and really at the same time the whole pandemic is happening, the George Floyd thing is happening where it’s protests, “Black Lives Matter” and I just like, something in my soul, I remember sitting and crying, asking how can we change this? This is a bad world for our kid to grow up in," Rabinovitch says.
Rabinovitch says she's voting for Biden in this election.
Bridget Rueter of Liberty Township near Cincinnati has also made the shift from Republican to Democrat.
“I was a lifelong Republican, raised by very strong Republicans, and this year, for sure, I’m voting for Joe Biden," Rueter says.
She says she agrees with the Democratic party more when it comes to important issues she faces like COVID-19, education and more.
Though they’re not as public about it, there are some flips the other way too.
Ohio House Representative Bernadine Kennedy Kent (D-Columbus) has been campaigning for Republican Trump.
“I am a happy, proud supporter of president Trump," Kennedy Kent said at a rally for Trump supporters in Westerville recently.
Kennedy Kent, who hasn’t been at the Statehouse in more than a year and a half because of a dispute with House Democrats, says she believes Trump is willing to work across the aisle to deal with big problems.
The two candidates campaign differently. Biden often does drive-ins similar to the one that ended the Democratic National Convention where attendees can stay in their cars or outside at safe distances. He also holds smaller campaign events in COVID safe environments where attendees are required to wear masks and safe distances are delineated by circles or spaced chairs.
Trump has always held large rallies. And that hasn't changed during this pandemic. Recently, he held a rally in Circleville that attracted thousands of attendees, most of whom were not wearing masks and were outside but in close proximity to one another.
The candidates have a different style and way of getting their messages out too.
Amy Mercer of Mason says Trump is a turn off for her and many of her friends. "He disgusts people. I think people see him as a liar. Someone who lies regularly. And people don’t respect that, no matter what you are lying about. I think they find him offensive And lately, the last few weeks, suburban women are just offended by him because he thinks we are dumb. He’s just so condescending in some of the comments he’s made. I think there’s an embarrassment that he is our president.," Mercer says.
But some of Trump’s supporters say they look beyond his harsher side. Cindy Patrick says she's not really attracted by his message. "I’m one of those people who wishes there were things he’d actually be quiet about. I mean that’s just the fact," she says. But on the other hand, she thinks he's not the typical polished politician. "I think it’s refreshing that he does not guard what he says. He literally says what he is thinking so you don’t have to worry about what his ulterior motives are. He literally says what he is thinking which sometimes is a good thing and sometimes is not a good thing but that….to me, he’s being honest," Patrick says.
With the gender gap as large as it is, and with some Ohio suburbs turning blue in 2018, suburban women could decide the presidency this year.
Paul Beck, a political science professor at Ohio State University, says surburban women seem to be the group that is defecting from Trump in this election.
"Well they appear to be a swing group, a group that were dependably Republican or at least a clear majority of them were in the past, particularly college educated suburban women. And beginning in 2018 and then headed into the 2020 election, they appear to be swinging, at least majorities of them towards Joe Biden. And whether that is a permanent shift or whether that is temporary, a Trump effect, I guess we will see in the future. But right now they are someone the Democrats are relying upon not only to vote for Biden but to vote down ticket for Democratic candidates for congress and state legislature," Beck says.
Beck says polling shows while suburban women are leaning toward Biden, they aren’t voting for him in larger numbers seen in some other states. So, he says Trump needs to come in stronger in rural areas than he did in 2016 to offset the projected loss of many suburban women in 2020.