By Chuck Raasch and Kevin McDermott
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Many political analysts and candidates say the suburbs will be on the front lines of this year’s battle for control of Congress with married suburban women in particular determining the outcome.
At a McAlister’s Deli, tucked in one of the miles of strip malls that line Manchester Road among the shoulder-to-shoulder suburbs of west St. Louis County, Helen McCauley and her daughter Sara didn’t hesitate when asked recently about the coming political season.
“I don’t always vote the midterm elections, but this time I definitely will,” said Helen, whose politics lean left, with a focus on women’s issues.
“I don’t like the way the last elections turned out,” she said, as Sara, 18 and eager to vote for the first time, nodded. “A lot of women who don’t necessarily vote every election are more energized to vote this time.”
In a nearby Lion’s Choice restaurant, sisters Jodie Green and Julie Siebert, eating with their klatch of giggling young children, expressed somewhat different views.
They’re frustrated with what they see as the heavy hand of political correctness in the schools and a lack of work ethic in society.
But most of their concerns are less ideological, more practical and based on issues in their own lives: education, suicide prevention, food safety.
“The stuff that’s really important isn’t really being addressed,” said Green, who didn’t express the enthusiasm for November that the McCauleys did. When pressed, she blames both parties. “Instead of trying to bring people together, they’re separating people further.”
Suburbs like Ballwin will be on the front lines of this year’s battle for control of Congress, political analysts and candidates themselves say, with married suburban women in particular determining the outcome.
They are always a complicated bloc, driven less by partisan anger than practical concerns, and less likely than their urban or rural or male counterparts to predictably line up in one political camp or another.
Adding to that unpredictability this year is a president who won’t be on the ballot, but whose problems with some women could energize those already inclined to oppose his party’s candidates, while tamping down the enthusiasm of those who might otherwise be gettable Republican votes.
Since the early days of his presidential campaign, when he directed harsh rhetoric against prominent women, from actor Rosie O’Donnell to journalist Megyn Kelly, Donald Trump’s relationship with female voters has been an issue for him.
Much of the “resistance” movement against his presidency, beginning with a march the day after his inauguration, is coming from women. Democratic women in particular are running and winning elections at levels heretofore unseen.
The question is, will the Trump Factor influence women in November’s midterm election?
“There is a group of voters with which (Trump) is really struggling that is going to be consequential in the 2018 midterms, and that is married women,” said Jim Kessler, co-founder of the centrist think tank Third Way.
“They have traditionally been supporting Republicans, not by huge margins, but by margins. And this is a group that is becoming repelled by Donald Trump. There are definitely cultural aspects to it, behavioral aspects.”
He said that “whether or not they are offended by the behavior, just sort of the daily drama” may be turning away former female Trump supporters.
“This is a group of voters that could either stay home or vote Democratic” in the congressional elections this fall, Kessler said.
Democratic pollster Mark Penn says there has been a “Stormy effect” on Trump from the ongoing controversy over Trump’s alleged long-ago affairs with porn actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal.
In a bipartisan poll Penn helped co-direct in early May, Trump’s job approval among men rose slightly from 50 percent to 53 percent compared with a poll taken a few weeks earlier, even as it fell among women from 41 percent to 35 percent.
Polling by Democrat Fred Yang and Republican Bill McInturff for The Wall Street Journal and NBC News showed that support for Republican congressional candidates among unmarried women fell from 30 percent in June 2017 to 24 percent in March of this year. Support among married women during that time was 51-41 in favor of Democrats, with support for Republicans down by 6 points from what Trump got in 2016.
Any tectonic shifts among female voters this year might be felt most strongly in the suburbs, where monied, well-educated voters haven’t set into the kind of ideological rigidity seen lately among hard-left urban dwellers or hard-right rural communities.
The League of Women Voters of Metro St. Louis, which encompasses much of suburbia in the region, has seen a dramatic spike in membership in the past year, adding almost 100 new members to the roughly 300 it had before.
Co-president Louise T. Wilkerson attributes it largely to Trump.
“The misogyny, the habitual lying and his apparent disrespect for women has certainly mobilized a number of them,” Wilkerson said. During protests last January, “I saw women out there who said they had never demonstrated before.
That may translate into votes” against Republican candidates.
In 2016, married women made up 30 percent of the votes cast in the presidential election, the largest subgroup on gender and marital status. They ended up virtually splitting between Trump, at 47 percent, and Democrat Hillary Clinton, at 49 percent, according to exit polls by major media organizations.
Trump’s 47 percent support among married women was a significant drop from the 53 percent that GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney won in 2012.
Since the Women’s March on Jan. 21, 2017, the day after Trump’s inauguration, Democrats have tried to capitalize on this gender gap by recruiting and promoting female candidates.
Through late June, Democratic women had won 71 of 109 U.S. House primaries for open seats in which at least one woman and one man was running, according to the Cook Political Report’s congressional campaign analyst Dave Wasserman. By contrast, Republican women won 11 of 29 similar primaries.
“Never seen anything like it,” Wasserman tweeted.
Overall, according to the Center for Women and Politics at Rutgers University, 52 women, 30 Democrats and 22 Republicans, have filed to run for the United States Senate.
Six Democrats and two Republicans have won primaries so far, and 36 candidates are still in the running and facing later primaries, including in Missouri on Aug. 7.
A total of 350 Democratic women and 118 Republican women have filed for U.S. House seats, records in both parties.
That influx of female candidates could fundamentally change the conversation in those campaigns, with less emphasis on party and ideology and more on the business of everyday living.
“We are busy people,” said U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., whose district includes Ballwin. “Women are, by virtue of all the multitasking that we do in life … unique. We don’t have time for the shenanigans, we care about our families, we are the ones that are the kind of glue that makes things happen.”
Wagner won re-election two years ago with almost 60 percent of the vote, and Trump won in her district in 2016. But Wagner has been targeted this year by national Democrats, including a campaign group affiliated with former President Barack Obama called Organizing for Action, which says it will sponsor grass-roots campaigning against her.
That’s because Wagner represents a prototypical suburban district, where the women’s vote could be especially unpredictable and determinative, the kind of district Democrats are focused on all over the country on the theory that Trump’s problems with women could turn votes their way.
Democrat Lauren Arthur won a special election to a Missouri Senate seat last month by 20 percentage points in a suburban Kansas City district. That seat had been previously held by a Republican and was won by Trump in 2016.