Joe Biden’s selection of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) as his running mate opens a new front in the battle for female voters ahead of November, with the Biden campaign believing she will help secure the demographic and President Trump saying the ticket will drive them away.
“The ‘suburban housewife’ will be voting for me. They want safety & are thrilled that I ended the long-running program where low-income housing would invade their neighborhood,” Trump tweeted Wednesday, referring to his decision to scrap the Obama-era Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule.
The president argues that the program’s repeal will “preserve” the suburbs, while Biden’s campaign says the tweet proves Trump is “dumbfounded” by Harris’s selection.
"As he struggles in vain attempts to tear the American people apart and distract the country from his devastating mismanagement with clumsy, bigoted lies, he's only further discrediting himself — and proving that he's dumbfounded after Joe Biden's selection of a strong running mate who he himself said not two weeks ago would be a 'fine choice,’ ” Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement.
Biden is already polling well above Trump among women — particularly suburban women — and experts say the first woman of color running as a major-ticket vice presidential nominee could boost that edge even further.
“[Harris] definitely will not be a detriment in appealing to that group,” said Susan J. Carroll, a scholar at the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University. “She should end up being a real asset because she’s a good match ideologically with that group of voters and with Biden himself.”
Polling shows Trump with low approval ratings among female voters in America’s suburbs
An NPR-PBS Newshour-Marist poll released last month found his disapproval rating among suburban women at 66 percent, with 58 percent saying they “strongly” disapproved of the job he’s doing.
Biden also leads Trump by a wide margin among female voters in general. A Washington Post average of polls released last week showed the presumptive Democratic nominee leading with women by 23 percentage points.
The erosion of female support, especially among white women, for Republicans was apparent in the 2018 midterm elections, which were largely seen as a referendum on Trump’s presidency.
Forty-nine percent of white women voted for Democrats in 2018 House races, according to CNN exit polling, compared to 43 percent in 2016.
Former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won the majority of women, according to 2016 exit polls, but Trump got the votes of 52 percent of white women and 61 percent of white women without college degrees.
Trump, who has failed to garner significant support from women of color, cannot afford to lose support among white women.
In a bid to win back their support, Trump has homed in on a message of law and order in the face of ongoing protests over police brutality and racial injustice. He has taken a hard line against demonstrations that have sometimes devolved into violence, going so far as to dispatch federal troops to Portland, Ore., in an effort to end protests there.
“These suburban women know that if the disorder continues in the urban areas and is allowed to be the norm, it is only going to spread into the suburban communities,” said Jennifer Carroll, a spokeswoman for Maggie's List, which works to elect conservative women to public office. “Once it’s spread into the suburban communities, now these families are being impacted.”
However, recent polling indicates that Trump’s efforts may be falling flat with voters. An ABC News-Ipsos survey released late last month found that 52 percent of respondents, including 55 percent of white people, say they believe Trump’s approach to sending federal law enforcement to cities to deal with protests makes the situation worse.
Democratic strategists say that Trump is missing the mark on the suburbs, calling his law-and-order message “outdated.”
“Trump seems to be operating on a decades-old picture of what suburbs look like,” said Spencer Critchley, a former adviser to former President Obama. “He’s picturing them as the classic '50s and '60s white middle class families in suburbs fleeing the cities, in part to get away from Black and brown people, and that’s no longer true. The suburbs are very mixed ethnically and economically.”
Still, Trump’s supporters argue that polling fails to reflect the mood on the ground among white, suburban women.
Trump’s daughter-in-law and senior campaign adviser Lara Trump brushed aside the president’s dismal numbers during a Women for Trump bus tour stop in Pennsylvania's York County on Tuesday.
"When it comes to polling and this president, the polls have never really been accurate," she told the York Dispatch. "I think there's a real silent majority, and I think it's much bigger now than even in 2016.”
But many say that Harris’s own background as a prosecutor and a state attorney general could help her counter Trump’s message that a Biden-Harris ticket represents a lack of law and order.
“It will help in a way that Trump’s appeal doesn’t,” Carroll said. “Trump is trying to emphasize law and order ... [Harris] will talk about the problems of law enforcement and the need to reform law enforcement, and at the same time not go to a greater extreme in doing that.”
Ultimately though, Biden and Harris will need to galvanize women across the board to perform well in November.
“Women have been leading the resistance to Trump since day one,” Critchley said. “Women leading the way saying ‘no, this can’t be what we’re about’ whether it’s suburban women or women in general.”