Republican women could be about to hand the White House to Hillary Clinton as they defect in droves from their own party because of their distaste for Donald Trump.
The evidence that Mr Trump has alienated large numbers of women who would normally be loyal Republican supporters – or might at least contemplate voting for the party’s presidential nominee – is especially ominous for him in politically shaded swing states like North Carolina.
While there has been a gender gap in presidential elections for decades, with women favouring Democrat over Republican candidates by big margins, only by keeping that gulf at least in check or narrowing it can Mr Trump have any realistic hope of prevailing in November.
So far, so not very good, however. That he is unpopular even with women from his own party is evident in the poll numbers. It has additionally been highlighted by the recent parade of prominent female Republicans publicly renouncing him and it shows up anecdotally in casual conversations with voters, including ones in Charlotte, the largest city in North Carolina.
In late July, after his party’s convention, Mr Trump was drawing support of 72 per cent of registered Republican women, according to a New York Times/CBS poll. That is a pale figure when you consider that four years ago Mitt Romney won the backing of 93 per cent of Republican women. Similar high numbers were scored by John McCain and George W Bush.
Losing the support of women is especially problematic given their disproportionate demographic weight. Four years ago, 10 million more women voted in the presidential election than men.
Since declaring his candidacy, Mr Trump has repeatedly done things that might almost have been designed to depress support from female voters. They included his spat with Megyn Kelly, the Fox News anchor, and his contention that she was so aggressive toward him in a debate, “you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes ... blood coming out of her wherever”. He also been acccused of unleashing assorted other crude epithets against women to diminish them.
Questioned this month about how his daughter, Ivanka, might deal with being sexually harassed in the workplace, he suggested she would go and work somewhere else. “I would like to think she would find another career or find another company,” he said. The notion that quitting a job was a solution for any woman subjected to abuse at work drew widespread ridicule.
Yet women voters seem mostly to express wariness about Mr Trump for many of the same reasons that men might. They think he is unreliable, if not mildly unhinged, and unfit for the job.
“It has been pretty bizarre,” said Emily Murtiashaw, who works for Wells Fargo Bank in Charlotte. She might have voted Republican for president this year, but for Mr Trump. “I think he makes a lot of Americans pretty nervous with the things he says. I mean every day it’s something different. The way he gets so worked up about stuff.”
“You hear all these things and it sounds like a joke,” she went on. “He actually said that? What was the most recent one that I just saw? Oh, how Obama was the one that created Isis. That just doesn’t make sense.”
Terri Beatty, an entrepreneur who buys small businesses to grow them, considers herself a loyal Republican, who voted Mitt Romney four years ago. She had thought for a while that Mr Trump might actually be an effective candidate, for instance using his own experience to highlight how small businesses are strangled by regulation. “He could have a had quite a good story there and blown everyone away,” she offered, “but that’s not the path he chose to take.”
Ms Beatty is instead repelled by what she calls the “Barnum & Bailey” showmanship of Mr Trump. “With all the racial slurs and just totally outrageous things that he has done he is not predictable enough to be in the White House,” she added. Not attracted to Hillary Clinton either, she has decided to back the Libertarian candidate for president, Gary Johnson.
An attempt by the campaign to win over wavering women by giving Mr Trump's wife, Melania, a primetime speaking slot at the party convention was knocked off the rails when it emerged parts of her speech were lifted from an address delivered at the 2008 Democratic Convention by Michelle Obama.
It does not help Mr Trump when Senator Susan Collins of Maine makes it known she abhors her own party’s standard-bearer. Other senior party women to have have rejected all allegiance to him include Meg Whitman, the CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprises, as well as Sally Bradshaw and Maria Comella, former top aides respectively to Governors Jeb Bush and Chris Christie.
Odd too was the news this week that the Trump campaign had taken on Roger Ailes as an adviser and debate coach, just three weeks after he was forced to resign from his post atop the Fox News channel amidst charges of serial sexual harassment of his female employees.
That said, Mr Trump also this week promoted Kellyanne Conway, a respected Republican pollster and strategist, to become his campaign manager and right-hand person when ever he is on the campaign trail. The choice may have been made with mending fences with women in mind. It was praised by Corey Lewandowski, fired as campaign manager in June.
“It’s important that Kellyanne is with him as often as possible,” Mr Lewandowski, now a CNN pundit, said. “Number one, it’s a woman. He needs a high-profile woman he can listen to and understand what the gender gap is. She also brings a sense of calmness to Donald Trump.”
The Democrats are moving, meanwhile, to take advantage of Mr Trump’s gender-gap problem. Last week, it deployed vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine’s wife, Anne Holton, to North Carolina to pep up campaign staff and volunteers in Raleigh, the state’s other big city. “I think this will not be my last trip to North Carolina,” she said, in a nod to the state’s importance.
Ms Clinton meanwhile moved far more quickly than Mr Trump to begin airing general election campaign spots on television. One that is designed to appeal to women in particular shows young children sitting cross-legged watching footage of the Republican nominee making some of the off-colour remarks he has become famous for, including the Megan Kelly menstrual insinuations. “Our children are watching”, the spot notes at its close.
According to the Pew Research Center, 55 per cent of women voted for Barack Obama in 2012 over Mitt Romney, compared with 45 per cent of men. The risk for Mr Trump is that if more Republican women abandon him the gender gap this year will widen. And there may simply not be enough men - he does best with non-college educated whites - to counter that trend.
For Nancy Ladd, who was touring a very sultry downtown Charlotte with her grand-daughter on Thursday, the prospect of voting for either Mr Trump or Ms Clinton leaves her cold. She will either not vote at all or write in someone else’s name on the ballot paper.
“I have to say he is smart about one thing,” she replied the asked if there was any chance she could support Mr Trump. “All he has to do is say something stupid and he gets all the press he needs and it does not cost him a penny. But other than that, no, he just doesn’t have the qualifications at all.”
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