Elections

White women in Charlotte suburbs were reliably Republican. Then came Trump.

GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump waves to supporters following his speech during a rally at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, NC on Thursday, August 18, 2016. If Trump expects to carry swing states such as North Carolina, he’ll need white suburban women who have a history of voting for GOP candidates.
GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump waves to supporters following his speech during a rally at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, NC on Thursday, August 18, 2016. If Trump expects to carry swing states such as North Carolina, he’ll need white suburban women who have a history of voting for GOP candidates. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Kae Roberts calls herself a “born-and-raised Republican” and says she’s never voted for a Democrat for president.

But this year, the 67-year-old education administrator, who lives in the SouthPark area, says she’s leaning toward Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump? She’s put off by some of the “wacko” things he’s said and worries his lack of discipline could spark an international crisis if he gets in the White House.

“Not stopping to think before speaking – if he does that in international politics, that’s it,” Roberts said. “Other countries won’t sit back and say, ‘That’s just Trump being Trump.’ 

If Republican Trump expects to carry swing states such as North Carolina, he’ll need voters like Roberts – white suburban women who have a history of voting for GOP candidates.

Four years ago, then-Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney won the national white female vote by 14 points, according to exit polls. A Quinnipiac University poll released last month found that Clinton was ahead, 49 percent to 46 percent, with white women likely to vote.

Trump is doing much better among white female overall in North Carolina – but still trails Romney’s 2012 total with those voters. A poll by the Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling found Trump ahead with white women in North Carolina, 56 percent to 35 percent. But Romney won the state’s white women voters 67 percent to 33 percent four years ago. And even with that margin, he carried the state by just 2 percentage points.

This year, the N.C. race is close again. The RealClear Politics average of recent polls puts Clinton ahead of Trump by half a percentage point.

One other wrinkle: Trump trails Clinton, nationally and in North Carolina, among white voters with college degrees – a group no Republican has lost in 60 years. But Trump enjoys a wide lead among less-educated white voters.

I have no idea who I’m voting for. Right now, I’m disgusted by them both. So it’s hard to even imagine going to the polls.

Holly Norton, a 38-year-old stay-at-home mom who lives in south Charlotte

Last week, the Observer talked about the 2016 presidential race with more than 20 white women in Charlotte’s suburban areas – territory traditionally friendly to the GOP. But this year, there are signs that widespread unease with Trump’s off-the-cuff comments – especially among women – could turn the suburbs into the key battleground in North Carolina and other competitive states.

African-American and Latino women tend to vote heavily for Democratic candidates, and Clinton is way ahead this year with both groups.

The Trump campaign in the state is working with the Republican National Committee, which announced Friday it is sending 392 new field operatives to battleground states – including, sources say, more than 100 to North Carolina.

Both campaigns will face challenges in a year when multiple national and state polls say Trump and Clinton are the most unpopular major-party candidates in at least 40 years.

Like most voters, many of the women interviewed last week outside grocery stores, libraries, restaurants and specialty shops in southeast Charlotte are not happy with the choice this year. They expressed dissatisfaction with both Trump and Clinton.

Holly Norton, a 38-year-old stay-at-home mom who lives in south Charlotte, echoed others in this disaffected group.

“I have no idea who I’m voting for. Right now, I’m disgusted by them both. So it’s hard to even imagine going to the polls,” she said. “I’ve never been in a situation like this, where there wasn’t at least one candidate that I felt comfortable with.”

In 2012, Norton voted for Romney. Though she said she’d be hopeful a President Trump could tap into his business experience to strengthen the U.S. economy, she can’t get past the insults and other controversial barbs he’s made on the campaign trail.

“As my girls say, he’s a bully,” Norton said, referring to her daughters. “And so I have a hard time voting for him based on the character he’s demonstrated.”

But Norton isn’t sold on Clinton, either: “I don’t trust her and I don’t agree with a lot of her politics.”

Norton wishes the candidates would cease their polarizing rhetoric and talk more about how leaders in Washington can work together to solve problems. “I’m very concerned about the national debt,” she said as an example. “And I don’t feel like either candidate is talking much about that.”

I feel like if you vote for Trump, that we’re going to go to war. He’s a loose cannon.

Molly Clune, a 44-year-old homemaker and mother who lives in the Providence Plantation neighborhood

A few of the women interviewed said they may opt for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, a former Republican governor of New Mexico whose platform offers a mix of liberal and conservative proposals.

Molly Clune, a 44-year-old homemaker and mother who lives in the Providence Plantation neighborhood, said she’s exploring that third-party route after ruling out Clinton and Trump as a “lose-lose” choice.

Clune, who is registered unaffiliated, voted for President Barack Obama in 2012, but dismissed Clinton as a career politician guilty of “scandals and lies and what we’ve learned about Benghazi.”

But Trump is also a non-starter, Clune said. “I feel like if you vote for Trump, that we’re going to go to war,” she said. “He’s a loose cannon. Some of the things he says are highly offensive, and he doesn’t appear to be in touch with any minorities.”

In recent weeks, Trump has tried to appeal to African-American voters at some of his rallies. But those speeches have been before predominantly white audiences and Trump has turned down invitations to appear before national black groups. That’s led political analysts to suggest Trump’s real concern is to win over suburban white women worried that he might be a bigot.

Voting against, not for

Trump does have some fans among the women interviewed last week.

Magdalena Groebelaar, a 47-year-old writer living in Ballantyne, acknowledged Trump is a “wild card” in American politics, but said she sees him as a leader who is more truthful than Clinton.

“I do believe he can make America great again,” she said. “And he loves America. I think Hillary loves herself more than America.”

Groebelaar also said that, as a Christian who attends evangelical Elevation Church, it’s important for her to support the candidate who opposes abortion. And Trump, after changing his mind on the issue over the years, now says he’s “pro-life.”

Also excited about Trump: Linda, 58, a retired artist and Republican in Ballantyne who didn’t want to give her last name. She saluted Trump because “he stands for traditional values and he wants to put God back in the country.”

But the Observer also talked with some women who said they planned to vote for Trump while holding their nose.

Former Weddington Mayor Nancy Anderson, a Republican, said she’ll cast her ballot for Trump to do all she can to keep Clinton out of the White House.

“Sometimes we’re not voting for someone, we’re voting against someone,” she said. “For Clinton to claim she didn’t know what she was doing (in dealing with potentially sensitive emails as secretary of state) is beyond absurd.”

But Anderson said “the Republican nominee” – she avoided mentioning Trump by name – “was not my first choice by a long shot ... I’m personally offended by him. The name-calling, the bullying, the condescending attitude – those are huge turnoffs for me. But I will overcome that. I will never, ever vote for Hillary Clinton.”

Susan Bowman, 42, who works at Wells Fargo and lives on Carmel Road, is a Republican who always votes the straight GOP ticket. And she will do so this year, too, even though she doesn’t like Trump’s polarizing style and finds his attacks “hard to watch.”

“This is a hard one for me this year. But I have to stay true to the party,” said Bowman, who had hoped the GOP would nominate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., for president. “Hopefully in the Senate and congressional races, a majority (of Republicans) will get in to help him.”

The Observer also talked with women who said they’ll be voting for Clinton – some enthusiastically, others mostly to register their opposition to Trump.

Jenna Hutchinson, a 32-year-old ER nurse who lives in Fort Mill, is a registered Democrat who agrees with Clinton’s support of gay marriage and the Affordable Care Act.

“I love Obamacare,” she said. “It’s helped a lot of people.”

Sarah Morgan, a 32-year-old mom and registered Democrat from SouthPark, said she’s “always been a fan of Hillary.” In college, Morgan even worked to promote then-First Lady Clinton’s health initiative.

But Morgan also considers her upcoming vote anti-Trump.

“I think he’s terrifying,” she said. “I have a lot of empathy for my Republican friends, who have to vote for somebody who’s a horrible role model for our children and dangerous for our country.”

Then there’s Sara Smith, 33, an unaffiliated voter who lives in Ballantyne.

In 2012, she voted for Obama. Interviewed last week just outside the South County Library branch on Rea Road, Smith – a mother, writer and student – said she plans to vote for Clinton this November.

Her reason: “She’s not Donald Trump. I don’t think he should be president.”

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