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Is Trump's Message To Suburban Female Voters Working?


The president is struggling to win over suburban women or, as he likes to put it, suburban housewives. And he has work to do. An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll this summer showed that two-thirds of women in suburbs and small cities plan to vote for Joe Biden. NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben went to Milwaukee suburbs to see if the president's message is sinking in.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Ava Schultz (ph) doesn't feel like she can talk openly about her support for Donald Trump. She does talk about it with Joy Adams (ph), though, her neighbor and friend of 37 years and a Biden supporter. Sitting in Adams' backyard on a beautiful summer evening, the two women got into it once again.

AVA SCHULTZ: Nowadays, if you say something, you're evil. And they go after you and then destroy your property.

JOY ADAMS: But do you think that he's brought up all the white supremacists?

SCHULTZ: Absolutely not. Absolutely not.

J ADAMS: Really? So who are all those people that are out here...

KURTZLEBEN: Schultz says Trump's messaging about the silent majority resonates with her.

SCHULTZ: I would never tell anybody that I'm going to vote for him. You know, I would never put anything on my car bumper or anything like that.

KURTZLEBEN: Adams, for her part, says she likes Biden more the more she learns about him. And, either way, she couldn't possibly vote for Trump.

J ADAMS: I'm afraid. I'm afraid for our democracy. It scares me to put him in there for another four years.

KURTZLEBEN: All that said, she also knows that arguing won't do her a whole lot of good.

J ADAMS: You're not going to change anybody's mind, you know? It is what it is.

KURTZLEBEN: Suburban women always get heavy attention in presidential elections according to Kathleen Dolan, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin.

KATHLEEN DOLAN: They used to be the soccer moms. And then they were the security moms. And, you know, those of us who studied gender politics, it's like, OK, what are we going to call them this time?

KURTZLEBEN: Talking about suburban women is often a way of talking about college-educated white women who have swung further toward Democrats in recent elections. It's also reductive, obscuring trends related to race and education, for example. But Dolan also points out that a few of the suburban counties around Milwaukee stand out demographically.

DOLAN: The suburbs and those counties are much, much more conservative, much wealthier. They're much whiter.

KURTZLEBEN: Lucetta Adams (ph) lives in the overwhelmingly white suburb of Hales Corners. Adams leans Democratic and, as a special education teacher, says she particularly trusts Biden on education. An incident from the 2016 campaign trail when Trump mocked a disabled reporter has stuck with her.

LUCETTA ADAMS: It's - I don't know. I just think our kids have so much to give. And I'm dedicated to that population. And I've worked with them for a very long time. And to see a president mock that is terrible.

KURTZLEBEN: This year, Trump is using fear to try to win suburban women's votes. That tactic is just driving Adams further away from him. She brought up a specific Trump super PAC ad.

L ADAMS: I get very angry every time it airs. And I haven't seen it air in a while. But it's the one where the mom and the child are hiding under a bed and calling 911. And someone's breaking in their house. And I think that is a terrible message.

KURTZLEBEN: Trump has, in particular, used the topic of affordable housing to reach white suburban women like Adams. This summer, he reversed a housing policy intended to fight racial housing segregation. His message is he's protecting suburbanites' home values, as well as their personal safety. Ashley Broadway (ph), who is Black, lives in the suburb of Brown Deer. To her, Trump's messaging is offensive. And she definitely won't be voting for him.

ASHLEY BROADWAY: What makes that next person unsafe because they didn't purchase their house in that area? And why would you say that? I hate it in every aspect. It's incredibly racial. And it's just wrong.

KURTZLEBEN: For some women from further out areas, the feeling is different. Mary Ludwig is from Watertown, a small city between Milwaukee and Madison, and said she will definitely vote for Trump. But it's not because she's heard Trump's message that Biden would make suburbs less safe.

MARY LUDWIG: No. No. I haven't even really heard much about that.

KURTZLEBEN: Rather, she's voting for him because she opposes abortion rights. Though, she has mixed feelings about Trump otherwise.

LUDWIG: He says things. And he can be very offensive. And he talks before he thinks. But I personally think he's done great with the economy. He's an excellent businessman. And his kids are stellar. He has really great kids.

KURTZLEBEN: Suburban women have been the apparent targeted audience of this week's convention. Trump will make his direct appeal to voters in his speech tonight.

Danielle Kurtzleben, NPR News, Milwaukee.

(SOUNDBITE OF HADOKEN'S "TIME AND THE OBSERVER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.