Donald Trump chases women’s vote in North Carolina

Businessman embarks on fresh push to close historic poll deficit with key Republican bloc


Marilyn Bain proudly wears her home-made sequined “I support Team Trump” t-shirt.

She is excitedly waiting for Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara to open the first Republican National Committee “victory office” in south Charlotte on Wednesday morning to help the party nominee’s chances in the state.

This die-hard North Carolinian Trump supporter likes to wear her t-shirt out grocery-shopping too, she says, and has had more and more women approach her in shops recently, telling her, “I’m with you”. She acknowledges, though, that the Republican presidential nominee has a problem with female voters. “He has got to improve with the ladies,” she says.

Bain (71) knows this from personal experience. At home, there are heated discussions at the dinner table over who to vote for in the US presidential election on November 8th. Three of her four daughters dislike Trump’s bad language and his mocking of a reporter with a disability, one of the most inflammatory remarks of his campaign. Her daughters are planning to vote for the Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.

“I tell them, ‘You are just giving away your vote,’” says Bain, who is at the newly-opened Trump office to collect signs and bumper stickers for her car to try to convince undecided voters.

Of those, there are many in North Carolina. This swing state and its 15 electoral votes are crucial to Trump’s chances of beating Democratic rival Hillary Clinton to the White House and reaching the 270-vote winning threshold. No Republican candidate has won the US presidency without carrying North Carolina since Dwight Eisenhower in 1956.

The Southern state is very purple, leaning more liberal in recent years with the large influx of migrants from the north-east favouring the state’s lower cost-of-living and job opportunities. In 2008, it was the second closest race (after Missouri), and it was again in 2012 (after Florida). Barack Obama won by 14,000 votes (a 0.4-point margin) out of 4.3 million votes cast eight years ago but lost to Republican Mitt Romney by 97,000 votes (a two-point margin) out of 4.5 million votes.

Poll deficit

This time around, Trump is playing defence. Clinton leads him in the state by a slim 0.8-point margin, based on the Real Clear Politics average of polls. Among white women, key voters in North Carolina and its large urban and suburban populations, Trump lags Romney’s record.

Nationally, the 2016 Republican candidate is trying to close a historic poll deficit among white college-educated women. A Washington Post/ABC News poll last weekend showed Clinton leading among this group by 10 points, a group Romney won by six points. This is part of a wider problem for the property developer. In North Carolina and nationally, Trump trails Clinton among white voters with college degrees. Republicans have not lost this group in 60 years.

In North Carolina, Trump’s lead among white women is 21 percentage points, according to recent poll by the Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling; Romney won them by 34 points.

Clinton is outspending Trump on campaign television ads by a whopping margin of seven to one in the state and she has opened 33 campaign offices. The Republican Party opened its first Trump offices in North Carolina this week. The campaign path through North Carolina’s main cities has been well-worn already by Clinton and Trump, and their high-profile surrogates.

Liz Capitano (73), from the Charlotte suburb of Pineville, acknowledges that Trump’s past remarks about women have hurt him but she is pleased that the changes in his campaign team have made him more disciplined and that he speaks from scripts now rather than off the cuff.

“He is regaining some ground he has lost there,” says the headquarters chairwoman of the local Mecklenburg County Republican Party, standing near “Women for Trump” posters.

“I think he has spoken before he thought, many times. I am pleased he is sticking to the message and not just saying the first thing that pops into his head.”

Trump’s most enthusiastic female supporters are equally forgiving over his comments.

“He is not a politician,” property leasing agent Cynthia Clementi (51) says as she arrives at his new office to inspect the desk from which she will be making campaign calls to undecided voters. “He is not politically correct. I will say, that his mouth has gotten away on him… he is human.”

The “Trump Train” – as his supporters like to call his campaign – attempted to map out new routes this week to appeal to new passengers: women. Flanked by his daughter Ivanka, Trump announced a plan at a rally in Pennsylvania on Tuesday to make childcare expenses tax-deductible for individuals earning up to $250,000 (€220,000) and a plan for six weeks’ paid maternity leave.

Embarrassing remarks

When she arrives at the Charlotte office, Lara Trump, who is married to the candidate’s son Eric, is keen to point out the proposals would be “very encouraging for women who might be on the fence”.

Asked whether she has been embarrassed about remarks her father-in-law has made about women, she describes the reality TV star as “an entertainer at his core”, pointing out that he has admitted that “sometimes things haven’t come out as he would have liked them to”.

“You have to look at Donald Trump long-term,” she says. “He employs so many women. He employs [more] female executives than any company for which I have ever worked.”

After speaking to supporters, Lara, a native of Wilmington, North Carolina, travels to Huntersville, a northern suburb of Charlotte, the state’s biggest city, to open another Trump office. Suburban voters in North Carolina are critical to Trump’s strategy for winning the state – he must eat into Clinton’s strong support among urban Democrats. Obama won Mecklenburg County, the state’s largest, by 22 points or 100,000 votes in 2012, thanks to Charlotte.

Larry Shaheen, a Republican political strategist for the Charlotte area, says the key question in the state’s race is how the 12 per cent of North Carolinians who are undecided and “true-swing independents” will vote. Most of these voters live in suburbs.

“The suburban areas are the battlegrounds and people are distinctly focused on it,” he says.

Moderate Republicans around the cities may also be turned off by the Tar Heel State’s controversial “HB2” “bathroom law” that limits transgender people from using public bathrooms matching the sex of their birth. The law passed by the Republican governor Pat McCrory this week cost the college sports-mad state the National Basketball Association’s 2017 all-star game and two rounds of the nationally popular “March Madness” college basketball games next year.

All this weighs heavily on Republicans running this year in the state, as well as Trump.

About 10 minutes down the road, the extent of his suburban challenge with women is obvious. In the affluent Southpark, a Republican-leaning area, customers coming and going at Reid’s fine food emporium and gourmet deli are, in the main, not happy with either candidate.

Of about a dozen women who spoke to The Irish Times, most were Republican and said that they were undecided. Three said that they would be voting for Trump, one reluctantly.

Janet, a 65-year-old property developer and mother of two with a college degree, says she would “probably lean a little more his way” but is “sick of the whole thing”. She declines to give her last name. “I don’t think she is honest and I just think he is kind of a loose cannon,” she says of Hillary Clinton and Trump.

Arja Owens (53), a lifelong Republican and working mother with a college degree, says she is not going to vote for Trump but is not sure about Clinton either. “I would rather vote for her than him. His foreign policies are what concerns me. I don’t know if he is equipped to handle anything that happens outside the US,” she says.

“I was talking to a good friend of mine who has always voted for Republicans. She is actually voting for Hillary just to keep Trump out.”

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