WESTERVILLE, Ohio » For Donald Trump to win the White House in November, he’ll need the votes of women like lifelong Republican Wendy Emery.
Yet Emery, a 52-year-old from the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, can’t commit to voting for her party’s presumptive presidential nominee.
“I’m just disappointed, really disappointed,” she said while standing in her arts and crafts shop. She and her circle of friends are “still in shock” over Trump’s success and wonder who is voting for him, “because we don’t know any of them.”
Emery’s negative impression was shared by most of the dozens of white, suburban women interviewed by The Associated Press this spring in politically important states. Their views are reflected in opinion polls, including a recent AP-GfK survey that found 70 percent of women have unfavorable opinions of Trump.
Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign sees that staggering figure as a tantalizing general election opening.
While white voters continue to abandon the Democratic Party, small gains with white women could help put likely nominee Clinton over the top if the November election is close. Democrats believe these women could open up opportunities for Clinton in North Carolina, where President Barack Obama lost the state narrowly in 2012, and in Georgia, a Republican stronghold that Democrats hope to make competitive.
Patty Funderburg of Charlotte, North Carolina, voted for Republican nominee Mitt Romney in 2012, but says Trump won’t get her vote. “He’s not who I’d want to represent our country,” said the 54-year-old mother of three.
Trump insists he’s “going to do great with women.” He’s accused Clinton of playing the “woman’s card” in her bid to become the first female commander in chief. He’s said he will link her aggressively to past indiscretions with women by her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
“Women want, above all else, they want security … a strong military, they want to have strong borders,” Trump told the AP recently, previewing a strategy focused on national security.
Throughout the primary, Clinton has talked about policies important to many women: equal pay, expanded child care, paid family and medical leave, and more.
A super political action committee backing Clinton also released its first television advertisements this week featuring controversial statements Trump has made about women. “Does Donald Trump really speak for you?” the ad asks.
For many of the women who spoke with the AP, the answer appears to be no.
“He’s just a jerk,” said Elizabeth Andrus, a registered Republican in Delaware, Ohio, who says she voted twice for Obama. She praised Trump’s political skills and argued that his business career indicates an intellect and ability that could benefit the nation. But his temperament, she said, is somewhere between “buffoonery” and “complete narcissism.”
Even some reluctant Trump supporters say they want him to dial it back and engage more seriously. “It’s time we get past all this showmanship and hear from him what he actually wants to do and his plans for how to do it,” said Renee Herman, a 45-year-old from Sunbury, Ohio.
Trump’s best opening is that Clinton, who is on the cusp of clinching her party’s nomination, also would enter a general election campaign with the majority of Americans taking a dim view of her candidacy. Fifty-five percent of Americans have a negative view of Clinton, including 53 percent of women.
“Anybody but Hillary,” said Carolyn Owen, a 64-year-old educator from Clayton, North Carolina, near Raleigh. She said Trump wasn’t her first choice, “but it’s better than the alternative.”
Obama twice carried women overall, but white women have been shifting toward Republicans in recent presidential elections. Obama only carried 42 percent of white women in 2012, with 56 percent opting for Romney, more than Bush and 2008 GOP nominee John McCain.
Clinton’s first priority still is to replicate Obama’s success with blacks, Hispanics and young people. In both of his elections, Obama earned near-unanimous support from black women, while drawing the votes of roughly 7 in 10 Hispanic women. But an uptick among suburban white women would give her margin for error or even propel her to a big win. Another potential Clinton boon: Many Republican and independent-leaning women with concerns about Trump could stay home.
In Georgia, Trump supporter Sue Everhart said she talks regularly with suburban Republican women grappling with Trump’s candidacy, some of them citing his boorishness. The former state party chairwoman said she tries to bring the conversation back to Clinton and remind Republicans “who we are running against.”
As for Trump’s penchant for controversial statements about women, Everhart said, “I learned a long time ago that most any man over 50 in this party, they like you as long as you’re making the cookies.”
“I should probably be offended,” she added. “But I’m not.”