The white suburban voters the president needs to carve a path to victory have turned away from him, for deeply personal reasons.
By Lisa Lerer
WESTERVILLE, Ohio — Kate Rabinovitch doesn’t call herself an activist.
A few weeks ago, the 29-year-old real estate agent wrote personalized messages to voters in her home state of Ohio on behalf of Joseph R. Biden Jr. She texts with undecided friends during the debates, arguing for the Democratic nominee. And she is helping to organize voter drives in her suburban Cleveland neighborhood.
But a political activist? No way.
“It’s just not something that I ever would have described myself as, if you talked to me a year ago,” said Ms. Rabinovitch. “I’m just a mom with the feels, like hard feels.”
Four years ago, Ms. Rabinovitch agonized over which candidate to support. In the final minutes of voting, she walked into the booth still uncertain. She left having cast her ballot for Donald J. Trump.
“I thought, ‘Oh, what’s the worst that could happen?’” she recalled recently. “I do feel guilty.”
For much of the country, polarized views about the president and his chaotic upending of American politics haven’t budged since 2016, when he squeezed out a narrow Electoral College victory while losing the popular vote. Yet, there is a demographic group that has changed its mind: white women in the suburbs.
In 2016, the suburbs powered Mr. Trump’s victory, with exit polls showing that he won those areas by four points. Now, polling in swing states shows the president losing those voters by historic margins, fueled by a record-breaking gender gap. Mr. Biden leads by 23 points among suburban women in battleground states, according to recent polling by The New York Times and Siena College. Among men, the race is tied.
Mr. Trump’s suburban deficit has emerged as a significant problem for his re-election bid, one that’s left the president begging with women to come home.
“Suburban women, will you please like me?” the president said at a rally in Johnstown, Pa., this week. “Please. Please.”
For Ms. Rabinovitch, no amount of exaggerated pleading will undo the damage of the past four years. On a chilly October evening in a suburban Columbus backyard, she gathered with three other women, all mothers of young children, to discuss their political evolutions.
Not all of them voted for Mr. Trump, but all carry regret about 2016. For them, the president’s words and actions have forced an intimate re-examination of their deep-rooted, more conservative political identities — taught in church and school and inherited from their families — and some things that are even more personal: their sense of morality and the values they hope to impart to their children.
Perhaps most worrisome for the president and his party is that the shift could go beyond Mr. Trump on the ballot this year, and outlast him. Armed with insulated tumblers of wine, the women described how Mr. Trump had turned them off from a Republican Party they once supported, one that they now see as intertwined with the president’s divisive rhetoric.
“I cannot imagine a Republican candidate that I would rally behind,” said Hannah Dasgupta, who is a stay-at-home mother of two school-age children and grew up in a conservative home. “Wow, that’s mind-blowing to think about. That’s a huge departure.”
Ms. Dasgupta, 37, said she had never liked Mr. Trump but had been unable to support Hillary Clinton in 2016. For Ms. Dasgupta, who was raised attending Christian schools, opposition to abortion was central to her political beliefs. After Mrs. Clinton offered an unapologetic defense of abortion rights in the final presidential debate, Ms. Dasgupta cast her ballot for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate.
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