Oakland women voters an issue for Trump

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Republican state Rep. Kathy Crawford attended Donald Trump’s rally last week in her hometown of Novi and came away thinking he sounded presidential in front of more than an estimated 7,000 people.

Then, over the weekend, Crawford turned on the television. She saw Trump deliver a speech in Pennsylvania, where he mocked what Democratic rival Hillary Clinton looked like when she fainted outside a Sept. 11 memorial event in New York during a bout of pneumonia.

“Horrible,” Crawford said. “I just saw snippets of it and thought, ‘Oh boy, here we go again.’ ”

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In Crawford’s social circles in Oakland County, she said Republican women have some advice for their party’s White House nominee: “Everybody wishes he would just shut up sometimes.”

Oakland County, once the crown jewel of Michigan Republican politics, has become a reliably blue county in presidential elections, with Democrats winning the last five contests.

Even Mitt Romney, a native son of Oakland County, struck out in the sprawling Detroit suburbs in 2012, losing decisively to President Barack Obama by 8.5 percentage points or more than 52,000 votes.

The GOP’s continued electoral challenge in Oakland County was reflected in last week’s Detroit News/WDIV statewide poll on the presidential race, which found Clinton leading Trump by 20 percentage points in the county.

By contrast, Trump had a 20-point lead over Clinton in Macomb County, where the businessman has built a base of blue-collar support centered around his opposition to free-trade deals.

The poll of 600 likely Michigan voters had a plus-minus margin of error of 4 percentage points, but the margin grows in the county results because the sample size is smaller.

Pollster Richard Czuba said Trump’s biggest weakness is married white women, including those who lean toward the GOP. Among all women statewide, Trump trailed Clinton by 21 percentage points, 48 percent to 27 percent.

“But we’ve never seen it quite this bad,” said Czuba, president of the Lansing-based Glengariff Group Inc. “You can’t be competitive in Michigan if you’re taking 27 percent of female voters. So he really has to pivot ... in counties like Oakland.”

Clinton’s lead over Trump among all white women was seven percentage points, Czuba said.

“He’s got to do better here if he wants to mitigate how badly he’s doing among non-white women,” Czuba said.

Percentage gaps

The News-WDIV poll found 66 percent of all women have an unfavorable view of Trump, while Clinton is unpopular among 42 percent of female voters surveyed.

“I hear my Republican colleagues say how disappointed they are in the references he makes to women,” said Nancy Quarles, a Democratic Oakland County commissioner from Southfield. “My Republican associates and friends I have, they can’t wrap their arms around anything that he really stands for.”

Romney and Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona faced double-digit gender gaps to Obama in 2012 and 2008, respectively, Czuba said.

The Democratic winning streak in presidential elections in Oakland County, coupled with Trump’s unpredictable campaign antics, has some local Republicans nervous about the New York businessman’s wreaking electoral havoc down the ballot if he loses the county by a wider margin than Romney did.

“I don’t know which way it’s going to go, but there’s a lot of worry on us down-ticket candidates that it could have a severe impact on us,” said Eileen Kowall, a Republican Oakland County commissioner from White Lake seeking re-election. “That’s what we’re trying counteract that with our ground games.”

Kowall said she’s supporting Trump, but wishes the GOP nominee would deliver a more “positive message … with facts.”

“I would like to see Trump stick to a message and quit going off course,” she said.

On Friday, Trump was on the defensive again after the Washington Post published a 2005 recording in which he made lewd comments about women. In the conversation, Trump bragged that “I don’t even wait” before moving in to kiss and fondle them: “When you’re a star they let you do anything.”

In a statement, Trump apologized “if anyone was offended” by the conversation but added: “Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course.”

More outreach

The second presidential debate Sunday night in St. Louis could prove to be a pivotal moment for Trump to change the minds of undecided female voters in Oakland County and suburban areas in other battleground states, Czuba said.

Ronna Romney McDaniel, chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, said Trump could improve his standing with women voters if he talks about his plan to ease the financial burden of child care.

Trump has proposed allowing parents to deduct the average cost of child care in their state from taxable income up to $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for married coupled filing jointly. A family earning $70,000 annually with $7,000 in child care expenses would get a $840 break on their federal taxes, according to the Trump campaign.

“I hope in the second debate he highlights some of those policies more, that he focuses on specific proposals that he’s put go forward to help working families, working women,” McDaniel said. “I think if he does that, the voters will change their mind on him.”

Other Republican women said Trump should continue emphasizing his independence from the political establishment.

“He may be crude in some respects with his words and his behavior, but he does see that we have a problem,” said Celeste Cole of West Bloomfield. “He has the guts. He’s not beholden to somebody.”

Other Republican women want to see Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, come to Oakland County before Election Day to reach out to women voters, particularly working mothers.

“She’s a brilliant young woman who does a great job representing her father,” said Theresa Mungioli, chairwoman of the Oakland County Republican Party.

The Trump campaign has announced no plans for Ivanka Trump to travel to Michigan. But Karen Pence, wife of Trump’s running mate, is slated to attend a fundraiser on Oct. 17 in Bloomfield Hills.

Miss Universe comments

Scott Hagerstrom, state director of Trump’s Michigan campaign, conceded in an interview last week that Trump has a problem with female voters.

“I think we’re working on that,” Hagerstrom said Friday on WKAR-TV’s “Off The Record.” “I think all of the polls show Hillary Clinton is winning with women, but the fact is we’re taking the message, when we go on the issues, Mr. Trump wins easily.”

Hagerstrom was interviewed on the public television show a few hours after Trump lashed out at 5 a.m. that morning in a series of Twitter comments lambasting a woman who won his Miss Universe beauty pageant in 1996.

Trump encouraged voters to check out Alicia Machado’s “sex tape” and called her a “con.” There was no explicit footage from a 2005 episode of a Spanish reality-television show in which the model supposedly had sex with a fellow participant.

The tweet-storm came four days after Clinton accused Trump during the first debate of calling Machado “Miss Piggy” 20 years ago after she gained weight following her win as Miss Universe.

“Mr. Trump does not stand back to be attacked,” Hagerstrom said. “He has a history of defending himself when he’s attacked. ... He was tweeting to put the issue to rest.”

“Telling people to check out a sex tape this morning ... is putting it to rest?” asked Zoe Clark, program director of Michigan Radio.

“He’s challenging the credibility of an individual that Hillary Clinton brought up in a personal attack,” Hagerstrom said. “He’s sort of darned if he does, darned if he doesn’t.”

Siham Jweda Lecureaux, a 62-year-old naturalized Chaldean-American from Farmington Hills supporting Trump, said Clinton has created a controversy over the former Miss Universe to distract voters from her record as secretary of state.

“It’s not against women or offending women at all,” said Jweda Lecureaux, a former hair stylist. “Hillary Clinton took it out of context and blew it out of proportion.”

clivengood@detroitnews.com

Staff Writer Candice Williams contributed.