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'Will You Please Like Me?' Suburban Women Could Help Trump Win Ohio Again

President Donald Trump speaking to supporters in Circleville.
Nick Evans
President Donald Trump speaking to supporters in Circleville.

At some of his recent rallies, President Trump has made a pitch to one demographic in particular: “Suburban women, will you please like me?"

Julie Collins of Westerville and Julie Womack of Mason are quick to answer.

“His view of suburban women is absolutely ridiculous and outdated," Collins says. "You know, I am an African American woman. I live in the suburbs."

“And I think it is very insulting to our intelligence," Womack adds, "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.”

Women are a key group for Trump this election. In 2016, while he lost the overall women’s vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton, he won among white women and with white women without college degrees.

Polls show that this year, the Trump gender gap has widened, from around 11 points down in 2016 to 14 points now, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll of likely Ohio voters. Former Vice President Joe Biden is leading with women by even more in key states such as Michigan and Wisconsin.

"The Suburbs Are Much More Diverse"

Heading into the election, Trump has spoken specifically to suburban women at his campaign events, telling them he wants to bring their husbands back to work and that he’ll make their communities safe. "I saved your damn neighborhood," he told one crowd in Johnstown, Pa.

The Trump campaign has aired an ad that showed an older woman on the phone with 911 as someone breaks into her home with a crowbar. The woman gets a pre-recorded message telling her her call would be returned later because the police department lacked funding – a reference to the calls for "defunding the police" during this summer's racial justice protests.

But that the message is not resonating with Amy Mercer of Mason.

“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, Mercer said. "I mean, that’s just nonsense."

Reynoldsburg City Council member Meredith Lawson-Rowe seems equally benused by the president's comments. The area she represents, east of Columbus, has become more diverse over the past couple of decades.

"I believe our current president in his description of suburban women is a bit antiquated," Lawson-Rowe says. "The suburbs are much more diverse than he would have us believe."

Trump’s message does hit home for some suburban women who have already been supportive of his policies – such as Dedra Bingley, who moved to Delaware from Texas, where she said unauthorized immigration made her former hometown 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 just kind of comes in and takes over,” Bingley said, adding that she agrees with Trump's gun policies.

And Trump’s law and order pitch also appeals to Cindy Patrick of Delaware, the wife of a retired police chief. She plans to vote for Trump the second time around.

“The law enforcement was a big deal to me,” Patrick said. "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."

While Patrick and Bingley want to re-elect Trump, some women who voted for him in 2016 say they’ll support Biden this time around. They emphasize, though, 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 in the 62nd Ohio House district – which represents Franklin, Springboro and portions of Warren County in southwest Ohio.

Rosiello said she initially liked the fact that Trump wasn't a typical politician. But once he was in office, she says his ineptitude showed.

“We want to protect our families from COVID," Rosiello said. "We want to protect our families with health insurance and good education, not from each other."

Kaitlyn Rabinovitch, who lives in Euclid, said she had buyer’s remorse almost immediately after the 2016 election. This year, she says issues came to light that made her want to vote for Biden.

“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?" Rabinovitch said. "This is a bad world for our kid to grow up in.”

Her feelings are shared by Bridget Rueter of Liberty Township near Cincinnati. “I was a lifelong Republican, raised by very strong Republicans, and this year, for sure, I’m voting for Joe Biden," she says.

"He's Being Honest"

Though they’re not as public about it, there are some flips the other way too.

State Rep. Bernadine Kennedy Kent (D-Columbus), who hasn’t been at the Statehouse in more than a year- and-a half because of a dispute with House Democrats, recently endorsed Trump and spoke at an event to elect him. Kent says she believes Trump is willing to work across the aisle to deal with big problems.

The two candidates have campaigned very differently in Ohio over the last few months. While Biden has held smaller campaign events in COVID-safe environments, or hosts drive-ins where people can stay in their car at safe distances, Trump holds rallies that attract large numbers of attendees, packed together, mostly without masks. He was recently in Circleville on Saturday doing  just that.

But some of Trump’s supporters, like Patrick, say they can look beyond his harsh side.

“You don’t have to worry about what his ulterior motives are," Patrick says. "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."

With the gender gap as large as it is, and with some Ohio suburbs turning Democratic in 2018, Ohio State Univerity political scientist Paul Beck says suburban women could decide the presidency this year.

“They appear to be swinging, at least majorities of them towards Joe Biden," Beck said

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. 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.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.