In late September, CNN reported that a priority GOP candidate in Michigan, John Gibbs, “once railed against giving women the right to vote, arguing that America has ‘suffered’ since women’s suffrage… Gibbs also made comments in the early 2000s praising an organization trying to repeal the 19th Amendment which also argued that women’s suffrage had made the United States into a ‘totalitarian state.’ As a student at Stanford University in the early 2000s, Gibbs founded a self described ‘think-tank’ called the Society for the Critique of Feminism that argued women did not ‘posess (sic) the characteristics necessary to govern,’ and said men were smarter than women because they are more likely to ‘think logically about broad and abstract ideas in order to deduce a suitable conclusion, without relying upon emotional reasoning.’ Hosted on Gibbs’ personal page at Stanford in 2000 and 2001, the Society for the Critique of Feminism argued for a patriarchal society run by men, calling it ‘the best model for the continued success of a society.’” Confronted my the media, Gibbs now says he believes women should be allowed to work and vote.
There may be women who agree with Gibbs' bigoted assessment of women’s role in politics. But those women are likely MAGAts who have already made up their narrow little Pavlovian minds about the midterms. In Michigan’s 3rd district, currently held by mainstream conservative Republican Peter Meijer, who voted to impeach Trump and was subsequently defeated by Gibbs 54,065 (51.8%) to 50,211 (48.2%), the congressional race is rated a toss-up... but it isn't really. Gibbs' primary win gave conservative Democrat Hillary Scholten— who had been defeated by Meijer in 2020— just the break she needed. Trump won this district in 2020 by 3 points. But Scholten is leading Gibbs in the polls. The FiveThirtyEight forecast has her winning 49.5% to 46.3%.
Yesterday, the Washington Post published a serious opus by Dan Balz on women’s participation in the midterms. John Gibbs had better hope Balz, who did his research in Colorado, has it wrong— or that at least it doesn’t apply to the western Michigan district he's running in. As of a July 13 FEC reporting deadline, Gibbs had raised $479,309 to Scholten's $1,225,031 and she had $970,641 left to spend to his $145,415. Kevin McCarthy's PAC has spent $1,312,768 in the district, but the DCCC has spent $2,439,665.
Balz spoke with a 53-year old Denver area woman, Elizabeta Stacishin, who told him that “[E]veryone is feeling in their bones, especially women, the insult and indignity of what the Supreme Court has done… And that is in no small part why I am working as hard as I’m working for the midterms right now.” She feels buoyed by “the overwhelming voter turnout in Kansas in August to keep abortion rights as part of the state constitution [and] the summer legislative victories recorded by President Biden and the Democrats in Congress, including the big package focused on climate change, health care and taxes. “‘I haven’t felt this good in a long time,’ Stacishin said. ‘I feel lighter. I feel happier.’” And Colorado is looking very blue— with big wins in the gubernatorial and Senate race all but assured. Most polls show Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet beating Joe O’Dea by around 10 points. Meanwhile Democratic Governor Jared Polis’ margin over Republican Heidi Ganahl looks like it will be greater than 15 points. The latest FiveThirtyEight forecast in this race shows Polis winning with 56.0% to Ganahl’s 40.2%.
Balz wrote that “In the 2018 midterm elections… a women-led army that changed politics. Women who had never been particularly active politically worked phone banks, wrote postcards and sent text messages to voters. They were repulsed by Trump and determined to do something about it. They met in small groups, marched in the streets and went door-to-door to encourage people to vote for Democrats. Their passions were palpable. Many of the congressional candidates they were supporting flipped Republican-held seats, all part of a political tide strong enough to flush the GOP from control of the House, dealing Trump a major defeat. The Pew Research Center has estimated that 62 percent of White women with college degrees backed Democrats for the House four years ago. For much of this year, the political dynamics appeared to be the reverse of 2018— a rebellion against Biden poised to eliminate Democrats’ slim majorities in the Senate and House. History alone suggested that. But the crosscurrents are more varied than they were four years ago. Earlier predictions of sweeping Republican gains have been tempered by the changing political climate, thanks in large part to the Dobbs decision, though the GOP remains favored to take control of the House. In the final weeks, with concerns about the economy still dominant, elections could turn on how much sustaining energy the Dobbs decision provides for Democrats or whether it fades in the face of bread-and-butter concerns.”
Balz’s key point is that “Biden’s approval ratings remain well below 50 percent, though his average rating is not as low as it was a few months ago. Inflation continues at decades-high levels. Crime in major cities and some suburban areas is up. The influx of undocumented immigrants gnaws at many voters. All that continues to push toward Republican victories. But the midterms are shaping up to be more than just a referendum on the president. Trump remains a central, and polarizing, figure at center stage. He continues to claim falsely the 2020 election was stolen and has remained in the news because of investigations into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol and his handling of classified documents. He maintains a tight grip on the GOP base and, as election deniers have won many GOP primaries this year, this Trumpian Republican Party is seen by many voters as a growing threat.”
No single group of voters holds the key to the midterm elections, but both parties see the following demographic blocs as critical.
Black voters are the Democrats’ most important and reliable constituency, particularly Black women. Democratic candidates will need another big turnout from them, though some Black men have been receptive to Trump’s appeals.
Competition for Latino voters has intensified as they have shown a greater tendency to drift from their Democratic moorings. Republicans think they can register gains among Latinos in Nevada, Texas and some other states.
Working-class White voters— men and women— have become a key constituency for Republicans. GOP candidates will need their strong support, as has been the case since Trump was elected.
White women with college educations, the focus here, are another key to November. Will they stay with Democrats in the way they did four years ago? Will some shift back toward Republicans, as happened in the Virginia governor’s race in 2021? Will many of them choose not to vote, conflicted by their choices or simply out of disinterest or exhaustion with politics?
…With so much swirling, Democrats are braced for losing control of the House and nervous about the Senate. But Republicans know they could end up disappointed with results that fall short of what they once thought likely.
In most polls, inflation tops the list of concerns to voters. Recent economic data, which showed continued high levels of inflation, will keep it there. Nearly every household is grappling with higher costs.
But in conversations, the issue of inflation doesn’t always translate immediately to the political advantage or disadvantage of one party or the other. Some women reflexively blame Biden; others see the problem as more complex, caused by global economic disruptions from the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. In contrast, the Supreme Court’s abortion decision is, for many, more visceral. Democrats believe that difference might be enough for the party to hold down expected losses in the House and maintain their Senate majority. The issue is whether Republican advertising in the final weeks and more bad economic news will override the initial energizing effects from the Dobbs decision.
…The Kansas vote highlighted the potential power of the abortion issue to motivate voters, though comparisons between how people respond to ballot initiatives vs. a partisan choice between two candidates are imperfect. Kansas saw a surge in registration among women after the Dobbs decision, on top of an already-robust organizing effort by a broad coalition that sought to reach beyond partisan lines to defeat the referendum.
…Ashley All, who was a leader in Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, said the Dobbs decision acted as a wake-up call for many moderate voters. “We saw a significant increase in our volunteer engagement,” she said. “We went from averaging about 50 volunteers a week to over 500 after that decision” in metropolitan counties where her group was concentrating. Other volunteer action was taking place throughout the state.
Other states have seen a gender gap in post-Dobbs voter registration. But some experts say the registration gains among Democrats are at the margins, while others are cautious about predicting abortion’s ultimate impact in November.
…Women will influence the November elections in two ways. One is how they vote: for Republicans or Democrats. The other is how many will vote. The combination of the two will shape the outcome.
Republicans hope to move some White suburban women who supported Democrats in 2018 and 2020 back to their column. Democrats hope to prevent that from happening. But Democrats also need sizable participation by the women who powered them to victory in 2018, a year when turnout for a midterm election was the highest in a century.
…Scholars who have studied the voting patterns of women say there is no such thing as the women’s vote. “In the same way that we don’t assume men vote as a bloc, we shouldn’t assume women do that,” said Kelly Dittmar, a political science professor at Rutgers University and research director at the school’s Center for American Women and Politics.
Still, as she noted, there are differences between the voting patterns of men and women, some of which have become more pronounced in recent decades. For many years after American women earned the right to vote in 1920, men were more likely to cast ballots. Over time, however, the gap reversed itself.
“The story of turnout for women is one of constant advance,” said Christina Wolbrecht, a political science professor at the University of Notre Dame. “Beginning in 1980, women become more likely to turn out to vote than are men, and that remains true.”
In 2020, for example, 68.4 percent of eligible women cast votes compared with 65 percent of eligible men. In raw numbers, 82.2 million women voted in the presidential election compared with 72.5 million men. This pattern cuts across all races, whether White, Latino, Asian American or Black. The biggest disparity is between Black women and Black men. In 2020, for example, that gap was eight percentage points.
Over the past three decades or so, another change has taken hold: Women as a group now vote more Democratic than Republican. That wasn’t always the case. Around 6 in 10 women supported Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956, and for all the talk about the charm of Democrat John F. Kennedy in 1960, a bare majority of women supported Republican Richard M. Nixon.
But while White women vote more Democratic than do White men, as a group they tilt to Republicans. In 2016 and 2020, Trump won 52 percent and 55 percent of White women respectively, according to exit polls.
“Gender gap” is a phrase that came fully into the political lexicon in the 1980s. The original gender gap, however, was not the result of what women did; it came about because White ethnic males were leaving the Democratic Party.
Jane Junn, a political science professor at the University of Southern California, said that the gender gap “is being pushed by women of color being super Democratic. ... White women haver never been Democrats.” In 2016, 94 percent of Black women voted for Hillary Clinton, and in 2020, 90 percent of Black women backed Biden. Nearly 7 in 10 Latino women backed Clinton and Biden.
Suburban women have been given various labels over the years and have drawn the interest of campaign strategists because they are seen as swing voters (though some scholars question whether they are). At one point, these suburban voters were called “soccer moms,” at another, “security moms.” But the recent focus on women owes largely to the divergence in partisan support between White women with college degrees and White women who do not have college degrees.
In recent elections, college-educated White women moved toward the Democrats; White women without college degrees, who make up a larger share of the electorate than those with degrees, moved toward the GOP. In 2014, 47 percent of White women with college degrees voted Democratic, according to calculations by Catalist, a Democrat-aligned data firm; by 2018, 57 percent backed Democrats.
White college-educated women have been described as a core part of the Democratic coalition, based on this shift. But the question of whether there will be movement back toward Republicans in November is of prime interest to campaign strategists.
Democratic worries about that possibility have been heightened by what happened last year in Virginia. One of the factors in Youngkin’s victory over Democrat Terry McAuliffe was a shift toward the GOP among suburban voters. Suburban women, who had broken strongly for Biden in 2020, swung back toward Youngkin, according to exit polls.
Kristin Davison, who was a lead consultant in Youngkin’s campaign, said Republicans have strong issues working in their favor that she contends will prove more powerful than abortion.
“We’re at a point, I think, given where the economy is and, really, a void of leadership at the top, where these household, kitchen-table issues [are] bringing these suburban women home [to Republicans],” she said. “Now, our side can mess it up. We can risk going too far in one direction or another and getting distracted.”
For many women who became politically active after Trump was elected in 2016, another issue has become more urgent in the past two years. That is the state of democracy and what they see as a radicalized Republican Party.
The hearings by the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack have helped elevate those fears, as has the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation into efforts to overturn the election. Meanwhile, in state after state, Republicans have nominated election deniers for statewide and other offices, setting off alarms about what that could mean for future elections if those candidates are successful in November.
Jessie Danielson, 44, is a Democrat who was elected to the Colorado state Senate in 2018 after serving in the state House. She is the mother of two young children. She has advocated for many issues and causes, but nothing seems to animate her more than what she sees as the fragile state of democracy.
Just back from a family camping trip and sitting in her living room as her baby son clamored for attention, Danielson explained, “To my friends and neighbors, women like me, they’re really worried. When you have the Republican Party [that] is willing to embrace this violence, this effort to basically overthrow government, take power, upend our democratic process, it’s a really dangerous path that they seek.”
For the final prime-time hearing of the Jan. 6 committee, she gathered her family in front of the television. “I just said to my husband, I don’t care if they [the children] fuss,” Danielson recalled. “I don’t care whose bedtime [it is]. We’re all going to watch this.”
Four years ago, when she was first interviewed by The Post during her campaign for state Senate, Danielson’s concerns focused more on Trump as a norm-breaking president. Today those worries are far more serious because of what she called “violent extremism.”
“I feel this is an unprecedented embrace of that extremism by the Republican Party,” she said. “I don’t think this kind of thing has happened before, and that is what I believe voters across the country will reject— an armed mob storming the United States Capitol to overthrow the elected government. And that mob was driven by Trump.”
Still, Danielson is hopeful that things can change. “I have to believe that now that we’ve gone through this and it’s been over and over and over, that the majority of Americans will say, ‘This is not okay with me… that is not American,’” she said.
After the 2020 census, Colorado gained a congressional seat through reapportionment thanks to the state’s population growth. The boundaries of the new 8th Congressional District stretch from Denver’s northern suburbs of Adams County to the more remote Weld County, whose economy is reliant on agriculture and energy. The district, which has the highest percentage of Latino voters of any in the state, is rated a toss-up by the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter.
The Democratic nominee is Yadira Caraveo, 41, a pediatrician and the daughter of Mexican immigrants. She first ran for office four years ago, winning a seat in the Colorado state House. The Republican nominee is Barb Kirkmeyer, 64, a fourth-generation Coloradan, who currently is a state senator and, before that, was a Weld County commissioner.
No single race offers a microcosm of the country this fall, but the campaign in Colorado’s new district showcases the contrasts between how Republicans and Democrats are trying to appeal to undecided voters while at the same time mobilize their party bases.
Kirkmeyer, who is not an election denier, is running a traditional Republican campaign. On a recent evening, she talked about her policy priorities to a dozen people on the patio of a home in a golf course development in Thornton. “We are bankrupting this nation,” she said, arguing that the Democrats have overspent. She mentioned inflation and then said, “Thank you, Joe Biden.” Some nodded their heads in agreement.
She shifted to rising crime rates, which are a growing problem in and around Denver, including a rash of car thefts. “Right out in front of my house,” a woman in the audience volunteered.
Kirkmeyer blamed the increase in crime on the availability of fentanyl and said it is time to “secure our borders… to stop that flow of drug trafficking.” During a question-and-answer period, she was critical of the Democrats’ climate agenda and environmental regulations. She blamed higher gasoline prices on Biden’s push to end reliance on fossil fuels.
Caraveo, in an interview at a Thornton restaurant, agreed that inflation is a major issue. Her strategy to defuse it is to talk about what she and other Democrats have done in the state legislature to help families, including by lowering some taxes and reducing health care costs.
She said immigration and border security are not so salient in a district whose agriculture sector relies on immigrant labor. “Republicans bring it up, but I haven’t heard it resonate a whole lot among voters,” she said. Crime is a problem “to some extent [but] not nearly as much as [in] Denver.” By contrast, she said, the issue of democracy “is huge.” She called Kirkmeyer “a climate denier.”
Caraveo said the most important change in the political landscape has come as a result of the Dobbs decision. “I’ve noticed a difference,” she says. “[People] were concerned about voting rights and democracy and abortion access, climate change and everything before,” she said. Now abortion is “the one topic to their minds. And some people are simply asking, ‘Are you pro-choice?’ And if you say ‘yes,’ it’s like, ‘You’re a woman, you’re a Democrat, you’re pro-choice, you got me.’”
Kirkmeyer says she has seen no sign that the high court’s abortion decision has significantly mobilized voters. “When I go to the door, people are not talking to me about abortion,” she said. “They’re talking to me about the price of gas and the price of food. And they’re worried about their jobs.”
In August, Democrats drew attention to a change in Kirkmeyer’s campaign website, which removed references to abortion. She is one of several Republican candidates who have scrubbed their websites ahead of the general election in what seems an effort to play down the issue.
Earlier this year, Kirkmeyer’s website talked about her determination to “Defend the Sanctity of Life.” Now the focus is on inflation and spending, energy and crime. In an interview, she said that the issues she highlighted during her primary, and the contrasts she drew with her Republican opponents, are not the issues and contrasts she wants to highlight in her general election race against Caraveo.
“I haven’t changed my position on anything,” she said.
The new district has a slight Republican partisan lean— R+3. FiveThirtyEight’s forecast is that Kirkmeyer will narrowly beat Caraveo, 49.7% to 46.1%. Last week, the Denver Post endorsed Caraveo. As of the end of the last quarter, Caraveo had outraised Kirkmeyer $1,147,587 to $393,355. But both parties are spending massively in the district. So far, the Republican outside groups have put in over $3.3 million, while the DCCC and its allies have spent around $2.8 million.