Women will de­cide the elec­tion. Here’s what they think.

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY MARY JOR­DAN AND DAN BALZ

Asci­en­tist in Ge­or­gia up­set about Pres­i­dent Trump’s stance on cli­mate change be­came a “mad sci­en­tist” and de­cided to run for of­fice. A young Latina in Colorado de­cided to do some­thing about her anger and frus­tra­tion af­ter the 2016 elec­tion and won a seat on her city coun­cil. Women across the coun­try who have never been po­lit­i­cally ac­tive are vol­un­teer­ing for one side or the other in the midterm elec­tions.

Since Trump was elected, ac­tivism among women has surged. Women dom­i­nate many of the “re­sis­tance groups” that sprang up af­ter 2016. More women are run­ning for of­fice than ever be­fore. More women are giv­ing money to can­di­dates than ever be­fore. The gen­der gap is larger than ever be­fore.

Among women with­out a col­lege de­gree, more ap­prove of Trump than dis­ap­prove of him. But there are also many women from a wide va­ri­ety of back­grounds and ed­u­ca­tion lev­els who like the di­rec­tion Trump is mov­ing the coun­try af­ter eight years of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

Fol­low­ing the con­fir­ma­tion bat­tle over Supreme Court Jus­tice Brett M. Ka­vanaugh, many of the women who backed Trump say they now feel a greater sense of ur­gency to re­tain a Repub­li­can Congress. But if Repub­li­cans lose con­trol of the House or the Se­nate on Nov. 6, it will be in large part be­cause many women, pas­sion­ate about the state of the coun­try, came off the side­lines to play a more sig­nif­i­cant role than in past years.

Over the past sev­eral months, The Wash­ing­ton Post con­ducted ex­tended in­ter­views with Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can women in two lo­ca­tions — the sub­urbs of At­lanta and the sub­urbs of Den­ver — and re­turned for re­peat in­ter­views to as­sess their sup­port or op­po­si­tion to Trump, their per­sonal in­volve-

ment in pol­i­tics and the is­sues that have mo­ti­vated them to ac­tion.

What fol­lows are por­traits of some of the women be­hind the chang­ing pol­i­tics in Amer­ica.

‘The fe­male war­rior’

Caro­line Stover sees one pos­i­tive thing Trump has done for women: “He cre­ated the fe­male war­rior.”

She said Trump “brought out the war­rior” in her and other women who want to pro­tect what they see him dam­ag­ing: women’s rights, health care for their fam­i­lies, the en­vi­ron­ment, Amer­ica’s stand­ing in the world.

“It’s a pri­mal re­ac­tion,” she said, ex­plain­ing why a record number of women are run­ning for of­fice and so many like her are com­pelled to be po­lit­i­cally ac­tive for the first time.

“If we can say any­thing good that came out of this, it’s that women have gained con­fi­dence and trac­tion and power,” said Stover, 59, a mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive sit­ting at her kitchen ta­ble in the At­lanta sub­urbs sta­pling voter in­for­ma­tion to slip un­der neigh­bors’ doors.

“The way that he de­graded women, the way that he de­graded other groups . . . I re­ally felt that that some­how re­flected on me as an Amer­i­can,” she said about Trump. “I was not go­ing to let that stand. I needed to raise my voice and say this is not my pres­i­dent, this is not Amer­ica.”

So that’s why on a driz­zly 95-de­gree Satur­day, she started knock­ing on strangers’ doors. “Early vot­ing starts Oct. 15!” “Our fu­ture de­pends on these elec­tions!”

She kept on go­ing, try­ing not to let the luke­warm re­sponse from a cou­ple wash­ing their car break her en­thu­si­asm.

Stover moved to the At­lanta sub­urbs a decade ago from Los An­ge­les. Her hus­band got a job in the area’s grow­ing film and TV in­dus­try, and they joined an in­flux of new­com­ers that con­tinue to make the red state a bit bluer. “I didn’t know the names of my sen­a­tors,” be­fore Trump won, she said — be­fore his elec­tion jolted her.

Right af­ter the 2016 elec­tion, she got an email from MoveOn.org, a group aim­ing to end Repub­li­can con­trol of Congress. “I don’t even know how they found me,” she said.

Soon, she was lead­ing “Re­sist Trump Tues­days At­lanta,” or­ga­niz­ing weekly protests out­side the lo­cal of­fice of Sen. David Per­due (R-Ga.). She thought 10 peo­ple might join her first protest, but 147 showed up.

Since the Women’s March the day af­ter Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion, Stover has at­tended scores of ral­lies. She opened her subur­ban home on a quiet cul-de-sac in DeKalb County for a fundraiser for the Demo­crat run­ning for sec­re­tary of state, John Bar­row. She packed Manuel’s Tav­ern, a pop­u­lar han­gout, for a dis­cus­sion of voter sup­pres­sion and fraud.

Stover is also one of the more than 5,500 women in At­lanta in PaveItBlue, a net­work that hosts events like “Bloody Marys and Post­cards,” a brunch where women write post­cards to tell neigh­bors how to regis­ter to vote, where to vote and about Demo­cratic can­di­dates they fa­vor.

On the day Chris­tine Blasey Ford and Ka­vanaugh tes­ti­fied on Capi­tol Hill, Stover joined an #IBelieveChris­tine rally.

She brought with her the sign she has car­ried so many times since the 2017 Women’s March: “My Body, My Choice, My Coun­try, My Voice.”

‘The more I like him’

Suzanne Hol­land, 66, a re­tired Ad­vanced Place­ment gov­ern­ment teacher in the sub­urbs south­west of At­lanta, pays at­ten­tion to what’s go­ing on in Wash­ing­ton. And she likes Trump. “I felt less safe un­der Obama,” she said. “Peo­ple in cer­tain coun­tries re­ally do hate Amer­i­cans,” she said. A travel ban “needed to be done,” and Trump got it done.

Hol­land was in her class­room 17 years ago when the 9/11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks killed nearly 3,000 Amer­i­cans, and she has never shaken the worry that an­other at­tack was com­ing. “I don’t mean to­mor­row or next week, but I do won­der about what’s go­ing to hap­pen, be­cause I do feel like it will hap­pen,” she said.

Her hus­band flew he­li­copters in Vietnam. He didn’t much like Repub­li­can Sen. John McCain’s pol­i­tics ei­ther, so Trump’s very pub­lic spat with the Ari­zona politi­cian be­fore he died in Au­gust “wasn’t a big deal,” she said. What is im­por­tant to her is that she sees that Trump re­spects the mil­i­tary by how he salutes and ad­dresses them, how he gives gen­er­als top jobs and how he has in­creased mil­i­tary spend­ing.

“I also feel safer be­cause Trump wants his wall,” she said, as she sipped a cup of tea in her kitchen on a south­ern edge of At­lanta. “Well, I don’t know if that’s go­ing to hap­pen. But be­cause he keeps harp­ing on it, I think things are go­ing to hap­pen with im­mi­gra­tion. I wel­come im­mi­grants who are go­ing to come here and be­come ci­ti­zens, or even just work here and go back home. That’s fine. But we just can’t have open bor­ders . . . . I do feel like open doors al­lows the bad peo­ple in.”

She cred­its Trump, too, for calm­ing the Korean Penin­sula by talk­ing to North Korea’s leader.

She also knows his “blunt style” is a turnoff for many women.

“Some­times I wish he would just keep his mouth shut or keep his thumbs off his phone,” she said. A master gar­dener who grows black­ber­ries for her own jam and or­ange zin­nias that at­tract hum­ming­birds, she added: “Nas­ti­ness is a real turnoff.”

She doesn’t blame Trump for start­ing the es­ca­lat­ing in­ci­vil­ity. She said it’s big­ger forces that be­gan be­fore Trump, and she points to so­cial me­dia and 24hour news chan­nels.

“I am tired of it,” she said of ca­ble news. “It makes peo­ple anx­ious. You hear the news and think, ‘What is the other side of the story?’ It’s neg­a­tive, neg­a­tive, neg­a­tive. If Trump burped, it would be news.”

It has got­ten to the point, she said, that, “The more the press crit­i­cizes him, the more I like him.”

She no longer reg­u­larly lis­tens to Fox News. She turns on the Weather Chan­nel and the BBC. She reads the At­lanta Jour­nal-Con­sti­tu­tion, Na­tional Re­view and emailed com­men­tary that some­how started land­ing in her in­box from con­ser­va­tive Ben Shapiro.

She has never voted for a Demo­crat.

Af­ter the “hor­ri­ble” Ka­vanaugh hear­ings, she said many Repub­li­cans were re­minded that they need to guard against “our ma­jor­ity in Congress slip­ping away,” and that, “it doesn’t take that much to change.”

In July, when asked to grade Trump, she gave him a 6 out of 10. In Oc­to­ber, she said he had earned an 8 out of 10.

“Even with the push­back, he is con­tin­u­ing to ful­fill prom­ises he made to vot­ers,” she said. More mil­i­tary spend­ing. Lower taxes. Tougher line on im­mi­gra­tion. Con­ser­va­tives on the Supreme Court.

She will be hand­ing out GOP lit­er­a­ture and mak­ing phone calls ahead of the midterms, and plans to vote for Trump in 2020.

‘You gotta let it burn’

Crys­tal Murillo re­mem­bers vividly her re­ac­tion to the 2016 elec­tion. “I couldn’t be­lieve what I was see­ing,” she said. “I just didn’t see my­self rep­re­sented at all.” She was an­gry and frus­trated. Then she got to work.

Murillo de­cided to run for the Aurora City Coun­cil in subur­ban Den­ver. On its face, it was an au­da­cious de­ci­sion. She’s the daugh­ter of Mex­i­can im­mi­grants, and her fam­ily is not po­lit­i­cally ac­tive or wealthy.

Two ex­pe­ri­ences put her on a path to pol­i­tics. One was an in­tern­ship in the state leg­is­la­ture, where she worked for Crisanta Du­ran, the first Latina speaker of the Colorado House. “I got to see a Latina in pol­i­tics,” Murillo said. The sec­ond was par­tic­i­pa­tion in a pro­gram run by the Colorado chap­ter of Emerge, which trains Demo­cratic women in­ter­ested in run­ning for of­fice.

Murillo, now 24, faced an in­cum­bent who was more than three times her age, a sup­porter of the pres­i­dent and long ac­tive in Repub­li­can pol­i­tics. On the night of the elec­tion, one year af­ter Trump’s vic­tory, Murillo be­came one of three pro­gres­sive fe­male can­di­dates elected to the coun­cil, and by far the youngest.

“This wasn’t about one par­tic­u­lar pres­i­dent,” she said of her de­ci­sion to run for of­fice. “It was the val­ues that that per­son rep­re­sents . . . . He was the spark and is the em­bod­i­ment, I think, of a lot of the anger and the things that I think are wrong in our coun­try. But it wasn’t about him.”

In­stead it was for her com­mu­nity, and Murillo’s fo­cus re­mains pri­mar­ily on the needs of her con­stituents. Still, she sees the Novem­ber elec­tions as po­ten­tially piv­otal for the coun­try. She men­tioned the Ka­vanaugh nom­i­na­tion and the cur­rent makeup of the Supreme Court. “I’m ter­ri­fied that the things I took for granted and the things that I was af­forded . . . aren’t go­ing to be avail­able for my lit­tle cousin,” she said.

Murillo de­clines to put her­self on a pedestal as an ex­am­ple for other young peo­ple. In­stead she is dili­gent about rep­re­sent­ing her con­stituents. She is learn­ing quickly how to nav­i­gate through city is­sues and the power dy­nam­ics that go with them.

She takes in­spi­ra­tion from Usher and his song with the lyrics “gotta let it burn.”

“I al­ways say you gotta let it burn . . . ,” she said. “With­out strug­gle and ten­sion and crit­i­cal think­ing and, like, push­ing your­self, you won’t grow, and you get com­pla­cent and sys­tems get out­dated and com­pla­cent and just kind of stuck in one place, and you kind of need peo­ple to con­tin­u­ally push for some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

‘My com­mit­ment’

In early 2015, Dede Lauge­sen at­tended the an­nual Con­ser­va­tive Po­lit­i­cal Ac­tion Con­fer­ence with her hus­band in the Wash­ing­ton sub­urbs.

Af­ter Trump spoke, she walked to the press area in the back of the room, where her hus­band, the ed­i­to­rial page edi­tor of the Colorado Springs Gazette, was sit­ting. “I said I think it’s Don­ald Trump,” Lauge­sen re­called. “He pat­ted my shoul­der and he said, ‘Oh honey, he’s not even go­ing to run . . . . ’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s a shame, be­cause I re­ally think that he is the guy who could win.’ ”

Lauge­sen, who lives in Mon­u­ment, Colo., stud­ied broad­cast jour­nal­ism at the Univer­sity of Colorado, worked in ad­ver­tis­ing and later started a busi­ness called the Rosary Project, which pros­pered un­til the In­ter­net dis­rupted Catholic book and gift stores. Even­tu­ally, she turned to pol­i­tics, start­ing in 2014.

In the sum­mer of 2016, she joined the Trump cam­paign, first as a vol­un­teer and then as a mem­ber of the staff. On the day the “Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood” video was re­leased, she was at the El Paso County Repub­li­can Party’s head­quar­ters. “I re­mem­ber tak­ing a re­ally deep breath, clos­ing my com­puter, pack­ing it up and walk­ing out of the of­fice with­out say­ing any­thing to any­body,” she said.

She prayed about it and pon­dered the sala­cious rev­e­la­tion and what it said about her can­di­date. She talked with her hus­band. “I found that my com­mit­ment to him was firm,” she said. She reached that con­clu­sion based on her faith, of “be­ing a Catholic who is for­giv­ing of sin­ners, rec­og­niz­ing that we all sinned and have things in our life that we’re not proud of.”

Lauge­sen blames Obama for many of to­day’s po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sions. When Pres­i­dent Barack Obama talked about change, she saw that as an ef­fort to move the coun­try “away from what we have been in the world, a con­sti­tu­tional re­pub­lic, and mov­ing us to­ward so­cial­ism.” Trump’s mes­sage, to make Amer­ica great again, was a sig­nal that he “wanted to re­turn us to our roots and reaf­firm the good­ness that is Amer­ica.”

“He cre­ated the fe­male war­rior.”

Caro­line Stover, 59

“The more the press crit­i­cizes him, the more I like him.”

Suzanne Hol­land, 66

“You kind of need peo­ple to con­tin­u­ally push for some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

Crys­tal Murillo, 24

“I found that my com­mit­ment to him was firm.”

Dede Lauge­sen, 49

She is skep­ti­cal about talk of a blue wave in Novem­ber. She is puz­zled by the polls that show so many women do not like the pres­i­dent. “It’s hard for me,” she said. “I’ve al­ways been one who gets along bet­ter with the guys than I do the girls. And maybe that’s why God made me mother to six boys. I like a guy who can speak his mind and get things done.”

She loves Trump’s tweets and what she called their “orner­i­ness.” Chris­tians sup­port him, de­spite his past per­sonal be­hav­ior, she said, be­cause “he’s un­wa­ver­ingly pro-life, pro-Is­rael and pro-Amer­ica . . . . We’re all sin­ners, but we get used for good things any­how.”

On the day af­ter Ford and Ka­vanaugh tes­ti­fied be­fore the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, Lauge­sen posted the fol­low­ing on her Face­book page:

“I stand with Brett Ka­vanaugh and all men who are un­justly, un­fairly, ac­cused of sex­ual mis­deeds for po­lit­i­cal or per­sonal gain. I am a woman who has been sex­u­ally abused and raped. I am also a mother to six boys. Amer­i­cans will suf­fer the con­se­quences for gen­er­a­tions if the rad­i­cal­ized smear tac­tics of the Left are al­lowed to suc­ceed in this case. Due process and rule of law MUST win out or we all lose.”

‘Mad sci­en­tist’

Jas­mine Clark is a mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gist who lec­tures at Emory Univer­sity. She never thought she would stand out­side cof­fee shops ask­ing peo­ple to vote for her.

“If any­one would have asked me three years ago, ‘Will you run for of­fice?’ I would have laughed,” Clark said.

But the 35-year-old mother of two is hop­ing to de­feat Repub­li­can in­cum­bent Clay Cox, the CEO of a pri­vate pro­ba­tion com­pany, who now rep­re­sents Ge­or­gia state House Dis­trict 108.

Af­ter cry­ing in her pa­ja­mas the night Trump was elected, Clark helped or­ga­nize At­lanta’s March for Sci­ence, which drew thou­sands to protest Trump’s re­fusal to ad­dress cli­mate change. She fret­ted over the time a po­lit­i­cal race would mean for a work­ing mom, but an­nounced her can­di­dacy be­cause, “I am a woman, I am black and I am a sci­en­tist, and I felt that since Trump got elected, all of these parts of my iden­tify were un­der at­tack.”

“I was happy in my nerdy sci­ence world un­til 2016 — then I went from be­ing a happy sci­en­tist to a mad sci­en­tist. I be­lieve in facts,” Clark said. “I got in­volved. I marched. I made calls. I ral­lied. I still felt I needed to do more. So now I am run­ning for of­fice.”

Fewer than half of the vot­ers in her dis­trict in Gwin­nett County north­east of At­lanta are white, and she is tak­ing Span­ish lessons to bet­ter reach His­panic vot­ers. Many are fu­ri­ous with Trump’s im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy and his re­sponse to the 2017 hur­ri­cane in Puerto Rico, she said.

When can­vass­ing, she has learned that many have no idea who their cur­rent state rep­re­sen­ta­tive is or what power they have. When one voter — an el­e­men­tary school teacher — ad­mit­ted that to Clark, she re­sponded by say­ing Ge­or­gia leg­is­la­tors voted not to ex­pand Med­i­caid.

Clark has reached out to Chris­tian pas­tors be­cause, she said, “Repub­li­cans have hi­jacked the mes­sag­ing that they are the re­li­gious — not oth­ers.”

“Democrats are not Je­sus-hat­ing athe­ists that some por­tray them as.” It’s not that she doesn’t pray, she said, “But when Repub­li­cans de­mand a prayer in schools, my ques­tion is: ‘Which prayer?’ ”

Mus­lims, Hin­dus and Jewish peo­ple live in her dis­trict, too.

“When [Supreme Court Jus­tice An­thony M.] Kennedy an­nounced he was re­tir­ing, my first emo­tion was anger. On so­cial me­dia, so many peo­ple were just throw­ing mud at one an­other. Bernie sup­port­ers were say­ing it’s the DNC fault. Other Democrats were say­ing it’s the Bernie peo­ples’ fault . . . . I made a post that said, ‘Lis­ten, Who the heck cares whose fault it is? We are here now and we have to do some­thing about this.’ ”

Clark voted for Bernie San­ders (I-Vt.) in the 2016 Demo­cratic pri­mary but then sup­ported Hil­lary Clin­ton. Some of her “Bernie or Bust” friends chose not to vote in the gen­eral elec­tion and now re­gret it.

“Cer­tain peo­ple feel like if a can­di­date doesn’t give you the warm and fuzzy feel­ing, they can’t vote for them. That is play­ing check­ers and not chess. Things like the Supreme Court are on the line, women’s re­pro­duc­tive rights are on the line.

“I have talked to peo­ple who even af­ter this are still not go­ing to vote. I don’t know how you get through to those peo­ple. I have heard a lot of peo­ple say: ‘It doesn’t mat­ter who’s there. My life is crappy re­gard­less.’ How do you com­bat that?”

‘We hired him’

For the first time in eight years, Kelli War­ren went on va­ca­tion, and she thanks Trump for her Florida beach week this year.

“The econ­omy is good and peo­ple feel it,” said War­ren, 54, a former el­e­men­tary school­teacher.

She said her hus­band, who now works at a pri­vate se­cu­rity firm af­ter serv­ing in the Marines and as a po­lice of­fi­cer, han­dles their money, and be­cause he sees gains in their 401(k) and stocks, “he’s a lit­tle more loose with the spend­ing money.” It’s nice not to have to wait un­til Christ­mas to buy cer­tain things, she said.

Her friend, Chris­tine Bec­nel, 49, also praised the im­proved econ­omy when asked why she sup­ported Trump. “Look around, busi­nesses are do­ing well,” she said.

The two friends, over lunch at an At­lanta restau­rant called the South­ern Gen­tle­man, agreed Trump was not per­fect.

“He has got no fil­ter. He just says what­ever comes into his head,” War­ren said. “He’s the Howard Stern of the White House.”

What about Trump’s long record of say­ing things that are just not true? His mock­ing of peo­ple he dis­agrees with? His lawyer’s pay­ments to women who said they had ex­tra­mar­i­tal sex with him?

“I don’t need him as my moral com­pass; I’m my own moral com­pass,” War­ren said. “You kind of have to look at what’s the end goal, and are you get­ting there, and then kind of ig­nore some of the blah in be­tween.”

“We hired him to run the coun­try, not raise our children,” Bec­nel said.

She added that there are so many al­le­ga­tions and Trump has strongly de­nied many of them that it’s hard to know what is true.

“I don’t have enough time to have a brief drawn up and show me the facts so I could draw an ac­cu­rate con­clu­sion.”

Bec­nel, a consultant to busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, likes how Trump “presents him­self. I like the moxie he has.”

Most of all, Bec­nel is relieved Obama is gone. She blames Obama for the re­ces­sion that re­ally stung her fam­ily be­gin­ning in 2009 — even though Obama had only taken of­fice that Jan­uary.

Many credit Obama with nurs­ing back to health a sick econ­omy he in­her­ited, but Bec­nel be­lieves Obama’s health plan sunk the econ­omy lower.

Her monthly pre­mi­ums rose from $400 a month to $1,500. She feels bet­ter off un­der Trump but wishes he would move faster to lower health costs.

“I felt fi­nan­cially hurt ev­ery day of Obama’s pres­i­dency,” she said.

‘I have to do some­thing’

Robin Ku­pernik was alone on the night of the 2016 elec­tion, in a ho­tel room in Cal­i­for­nia, where she was at­tend­ing a work-re­lated con­fer­ence. She sup­ported Clin­ton and had never liked Trump.

Her dis­tress over Trump’s vic­tory in­ten­si­fied the next day. No one at the con­fer­ence felt they could talk pol­i­tics. “I hated that trip,” she said. Her hus­band, a Trump voter, was mostly in­com­mu­ni­cado. “I got home and he gave me flow­ers and he said, ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’ And so it was hard for us.”

Ku­pernik, 52, who lives in Ar­vada on the west side of Den­ver, had started life as a Repub­li­can but switched to the Demo­cratic Party more than a decade ago. “It was re­ally heart­felt, and it was a big thing,” she said. “But I was not then su­per ac­tive in pol­i­tics.” The 2016 elec­tion changed that for her.

“Af­ter a cou­ple of weeks of de­pres­sion, I thought okay, I have to do some­thing or I’m just go­ing to keep be­ing re­ally de­pressed,” she said. By early in the Trump pres­i­dency, Ku­pernik had found an or­ga­ni­za­tion close to home, Ar­vadans for Pro­gres­sive Ac­tion, through which to chan­nel her en­er­gies.

“Be­fore the elec­tion, I wasn’t call­ing my sen­a­tors,” she said. “I wasn’t call­ing in to town halls. There was no In­di­vis­i­ble for me to join. I wasn’t work­ing with my church to have an ed­u­ca­tional pre­sen­ta­tion on im­mi­gra­tion. Now I am. I never can­vassed be­fore for a po­lit­i­cal can­di­date. Now I’m can­vass­ing for a cou­ple of po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates.”

She said her im­me­di­ate fears af­ter the elec­tion, that in­sti­tu­tions would quickly crum­ble un­der the pres­sure from Trump’s at­tacks, did not ma­te­ri­al­ize. “But I see that the more re­al­is­tic fear is that . . . ev­ery week stuff hap­pens in Wash­ing­ton that we don’t even see, just lit­tle tiny dings at these in­sti­tu­tions.”

She has paid close at­ten­tion to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion led by spe­cial coun­sel Robert S. Mueller III into Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion and pos­si­ble in­volve­ment by Trump cam­paign as­so­ci­ates. She an­tic­i­pates a damn­ing re­port from Mueller, one that “far ex­ceeds the bar for im­peach­ment. My big­gest fear is that Congress won’t im­peach him. And then where will we be?”

When Trump met Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin in Helsinki last sum­mer, and was roundly crit­i­cized for not stand­ing up more ro­bustly for the United States, Ku­pernik saw a sil­ver lin­ing in the con­sen­sus that Trump’s per­for­mance had un­der­mined Amer­i­can val­ues. “It was like a lit­tle bit of a glimpse of what it used to feel like when Amer­ica would agree on some­thing,” she said.

As the elec­tion ap­proaches, her ac­tiv­ity level has in­creased. She can­vasses reg­u­larly and has writ­ten “a jil­lion post­cards” to vot­ers, all fo­cused on races that could give Democrats con­trol of the state. She re­mains op­ti­mistic about Novem­ber, but cau­tiously so. “I don’t want to get cocky,” she said. “I am very ner­vous. I mean, af­ter 2016, I don’t know how it’s go­ing to go.”

‘Sick to my stom­ach’

On a swel­ter­ing Au­gust day, Darien Wil­son joined a dozen oth­ers — nearly all fe­male — out­side an of­fice build­ing in subur­ban Den­ver. They car­ried signs that said things like “Traitor Trump De­nies Truth” and “Pro­tect Children from Guns” and “Coun­try over Party.”

It is a weekly rit­ual for the group, par­tic­i­pants in­ter­con­nected through area chap­ters of In­di­vis­i­ble. They gather to show their dis­sat­is­fac­tion with Repub­li­can Rep. Mike Coff­man, who rep­re­sents Colorado’s 6th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict and is in a strug­gle to hold his seat against Demo­cratic nom­i­nee Ja­son Crow.

The dis­trict is highly di­verse — more than 100 lan­guages are spo­ken in the schools. Clin­ton won by nine per­cent­age points in 2016. Coff­man, tire­less in his work, has weath­ered re­peated chal­lenges in recent elec­tions. His mar­gin in 2016 was eight per­cent­age points. Even his crit­ics ac­knowl­edge his po­lit­i­cal skills and tenac­ity. He has tried to hold Trump at arm’s length, but Democrats say he over­whelm­ingly sup­ports Trump’s po­si­tions.

Many of the women newly ac­ti­vated have fo­cused their en­er­gies on the 6th Dis­trict. Some show up for the weekly demon­stra­tions near his of­fice. Oth­ers

stand on an over­pass over one of the free­ways, hold­ing an­tiTrump ban­ners that draw honk­ing horns from pass­ing mo­torists. Oth­ers are mak­ing calls and knock­ing on doors. The Na­tional Repub­li­can Con­gres­sional Com­mit­tee re­cently can­celed planned tele­vi­sion ads on Coff­man’s be­half.

Eiko Browning, a doc­tor, never did much other than vote. Now she shows up reg­u­larly for the weekly demon­stra­tions and also sends a small con­tri­bu­tion to any can­di­date she finds ap­peal­ing, any­where in the coun­try. “I feel like we need to right the ship, and we all need to be pulling to­gether in the same di­rec­tion,” she said.

Wil­son was in the mid­dle of the lineup of demon­stra­tors. A Texas na­tive, she and her hus­band moved to Colorado in 2009. They have three children — two daugh­ters and a son. Af­ter the elec­tion, “I would wake up in the morn­ing and it would be my first thought, and I was sick,” she said.

She was re­pulsed by the idea of some­one ac­cused of sex­ual as­sault liv­ing in the White House. “I would go, af­ter 2016, to a restau­rant and look around and see all the white men there,” she said. “So many of them voted for Trump, and I would think all these peo­ple are okay with grab­bing some­one by the [gen­i­tals] and say­ing that. It made me sick to my stom­ach to think how un­safe I was.”

She got in­volved in a school board elec­tion in her com­mu­nity. She counts health care and gun vi­o­lence as two other is­sues of im­por­tance. She ges­tured to­ward her friend, Cindy Sandhu, stand­ing next to her with her baby, and noted that their in­volve­ment is ex­po­nen­tially higher than in the past.

“Cindy and I have been work­ing on post­cards to vot­ers in [the 6th Dis­trict],” she said. “We have been can­vass­ing. We have been mak­ing phone calls. We’ve been mak­ing do­na­tions. But the thing that I think is dif­fer­ent, switch­ing back to what’s dif­fer­ent from be­fore, is that we’re very fa­mil­iar with all of our lo­cal can­di­dates, way down bal­lot. I know who’s run­ning for county coro­ner.”

Wil­son stressed that, though she is a life­long Demo­crat, the In­di­vis­i­ble chap­ter of which she is a mem­ber is not a Demo­cratic Party ad­junct. “We take our Demo­cratic rep­re­sen­ta­tives to task as well,” she said.

Re­cently, her un­hap­pi­ness fo­cused on Sen. Michael F. Ben­net (D-Colo.), who she be­lieved was not suf­fi­ciently force­ful in op­pos­ing Ka­vanaugh’s nom­i­na­tion. “He talks about bi­par­ti­san­ship,” she said. “It’s like he thinks it’s the ’80s and their side is play­ing fair. They’re not. So we want him to be more out­spo­ken, tougher.”

Still, it is Trump and the Repub­li­cans who an­i­mate the work she is do­ing. “We’re mak­ing sure that no stone is un­turned,” she said. Asked what she thought is at stake in Novem­ber, she had a terse re­sponse: “The fu­ture of democ­racy.”

‘Repu­di­ated’

Yadira Car­aveo was born and raised in Colorado. Her par­ents im­mi­grated from Mex­ico in the 1970s, ar­riv­ing at dif­fer­ent times but both from the same small town. They ar­rived as un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants but were put on a path to cit­i­zen­ship as a re­sult of the amnesty pro­vi­sions in the 1986 im­mi­gra­tion bill that was signed by Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan.

At 3, as she re­called, she de­cided she wanted to go to med­i­cal school. She thought she would be­come a car­di­ol­o­gist, but in med­i­cal school she kept be­ing drawn back to work­ing with children. To­day she is a pe­di­a­tri­cian in a prac­tice in the Den­ver sub­urbs. She is also a first-time can­di­date for of­fice, run­ning for a seat in the Colorado state House.

She has been po­lit­i­cally ac­tive for some years. In her fourth year in med­i­cal school, she struc­tured her stud­ies in a way that al­lowed her to vol­un­teer for Obama’s 2008 cam­paign. Even­tu­ally she was of­fered a staff po­si­tion. She re­mem­bers her fa­ther cry­ing when Obama won the pres­i­dency.

Be­fore the 2016 elec­tion, she saw fears rising in the Latino com­mu­nity. One child, about 8, seemed ner­vous when he was in for a checkup. She asked him about it. “He’s like, ‘I’m just re­ally scared that Trump is go­ing to win . . . be­cause kids at school have been telling me that me and my par­ents need to leave, we need to go back to Mex­ico.’ ”

On elec­tion night, she was watch­ing the re­turns with her par­ents but as the re­sults turned to­ward Trump, she left, pre­fer­ring to be alone at home. A strong sup­porter of Clin­ton, she said she felt as though peo­ple had voted “against ev­ery­thing that makes me — so a woman, a Latina, child of im­mi­grants, an ed­u­cated woman who’s in­de­pen­dent, not mar­ried, child­less.”

Af­ter the elec­tion, she de­cided she needed to do more, out­side of medicine. She said that, for her­self and many other women, it was a feel­ing that “if he and his party are go­ing to at­tack ev­ery­thing that I stand for then I bet­ter . . . get out and do some­thing about it.”

Now her life is one of con­stant jug­gling, be­tween im­mov­able med­i­cal ap­point­ments sched­uled months in ad­vance and the never-end­ing de­mands of fundrais­ing, po­lit­i­cal gath­er­ings and cam­paign­ing.

When she knocks on doors, she says she can see “they’re not su­per ex­cited to an­swer it for a ran­dom stranger,” par­tic­u­larly one who is a po­lit­i­cal can­di­date. “Once I start talk­ing about how I’m a pe­di­a­tri­cian, ac­tu­ally, their body lan­guage and their face changes com­pletely.” She be­lieves there is more en­ergy among Democrats — turnout dur­ing the June pri­mary was strong — but wor­ries about com­pla­cency and false as­sump­tions about the power of a blue wave.

The other things Car­aveo sees is a de­sire on the part of many vot­ers to tend to lo­cal pol­i­tics. “The big thing that I’ve been hear­ing every­body talk of is, let’s for­get about the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment is go­ing to be a mess for a while and so let’s fo­cus on the state and make Colorado some­place that’s safe for peo­ple, that’s wel­com­ing to peo­ple where we’re go­ing to try to pro­tect the peo­ple that we value and the ideas that we value.”

‘What both­ers me most . . . ’

Carol Gantt, 42, is dis­il­lu­sioned, more be­cause of Trump sup­port­ers than be­cause of Trump. He will leave of­fice even­tu­ally. Her At­lanta neigh­bors who voted for him won’t go any­where.

“What I ex­pect is peo­ple to have enough com­mon sense to kind of de­ci­pher through the bulls---, and the fact that some peo­ple are just not go­ing to be­cause it does not align with their agenda, that’s a prob­lem for me,” she said. “It doesn’t bother me that [Trump] lies; I ex­pect that. What both­ers me the most is the peo­ple who be­lieve them.”

She sees Trump’s pres­i­dency as a re­ac­tion against the first black pres­i­dent, “an un­do­ing of ev­ery­thing Obama did.”

More than half a cen­tury ago in this south­ern city, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was fight­ing for civil rights, for equal­ity. Yet, last year Trump said there were “good peo­ple” at the white su­prem­a­cists march in Char­lottesville, a mo­ment she said, that was “among the saddest” of the Trump era.

Yet she said some peo­ple don’t seem to mind the racism she sees Trump stir­ring up. In fact, Ge­or­gia’s Repub­li­can gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date, Brian Kemp, uses ev­ery chance to align him­self with Trump and to say that he, too, is “po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect.”

In one of his TV ads, Kemp car­ries a gun, hops in a pickup, and says, “I’ve got a big truck, just in case I need to round up crim­i­nal il­le­gals and take them home my­self.”

To Gantt, that po­lit­i­cal ad is rem­i­nis­cent of “the Jim Crow era, of when white men were in their trucks look­ing to round up peo­ple they thought were un­de­sir­ables — black peo­ple.”

Kemp signs dot big lawns of some grand At­lanta subur­ban homes while many oth­ers are show­ing their sup­port for Kemp’s Demo­cratic op­po­nent, Stacey Abrams, who hopes to be­come the first black fe­male gov­er­nor in the na­tion.

“But I don’t want to get my hopes up,” Gantt said. “It could end up be­ing busi­ness as usual.”

Gantt, who is ac­tive in a Bap­tist megachurch where politi­cians fre­quently show up ahead of elec­tions, sees Democrats kick­ing into high gear ahead of the midterms. But she said even with Abrams’s can­di­dacy, “I see white peo­ple more en­er­gized than black peo­ple.”

The eu­pho­ria of Obama’s elec­tion was fol­lowed by the Trump pres­i­dency, and many black peo­ple do not see how elec­tions help them.

Early this year, she quit CNN af­ter 14 years. She took a job pro­duc­ing lan­guage learn­ing, ex­er­cise and other pro­gram­ming that she said “feeds the soul.”

“Now, if I want to bury my head in the sand for a day and don’t re­ally want to know what was said, what was done, I don’t have to,” Gantt said.

Many women — Repub­li­cans and Democrats — in­ter­viewed over the past three months say they have cut back or stopped watch­ing CNN, FOX and MSNBC be­cause it was stress­ing them out. Gantt said it was mak­ing her de­pressed. Oth­ers said since Trump’s elec­tion that they were drink­ing too much al­co­hol and overeat­ing, pack­ing on the “Trump 15.”

Dur­ing a lunch around the corner from Ebenezer Bap­tist Church, where King preached, Gantt and her friends talked of recent racist in­ci­dents. A white woman had called the po­lice be­cause she saw black peo­ple in her neigh­bor­hood pool. Black men avoid can­vass­ing in the midterms be­cause some peo­ple get alarmed to see them at their door.

“Hon­estly, it’s hard these days,” said Robin May, 43, a life coach and friend of Gantt’s at the lunch.

She said she was mak­ing an ef­fort to un­der­stand where Trump sup­port­ers were com­ing from, “but when I hear peo­ple who align with Trump’s po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy, I hear it as anti-Robin. It’s got­ten that hard to have a con­ver­sa­tion. The di­vide is dan­ger­ously wide.”

‘Ba­si­cally my morn­ing cof­fee’

For months and months af­ter Trump was elected, Jen Helms — who was badly shaken by the elec­tion — be­gan her day the same way. “My rou­tine ev­ery morn­ing,” she said dur­ing an in­ter­view in early Au­gust, “is I get up and I open Twit­ter and I look at his Twit­ter feed . . . . It’s ba­si­cally my cof­fee in the morn­ing.”

She had at­tended Obama’s ac­cep­tance speech at the 2008 Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion in Den­ver but was never very ac­tive po­lit­i­cally. On Elec­tion Night 2016, she was “dev­as­tated” and the pain did not quickly go away. “I still get emo­tional think­ing about it,” she said.

She found the name of an In­di­vis­i­ble chap­ter in the Den­ver area. She didn’t know much about it. “All I know is I needed to be in­volved in that.” Ini­tially, the group strug­gled to set pri­or­i­ties for ac­tion. “We couldn’t find a fo­cus be­cause there was so much,” she said.

Some peo­ple cared about ed­u­ca­tion, oth­ers health care, oth­ers the en­vi­ron­ment. But the con­nec­tions pro­vided sup­port. “I can go to this group and I still have other peo­ple un­der­stand me, she said. “Then when I burst into tears, they were like, yeah, I feel you. I didn’t feel ashamed.”

Over the sum­mer, Helms was hav­ing trou­ble sleep­ing and was still over­whelmed with anger. “I re­al­ized that this con­stant state of out­rage was re­ally tak­ing a toll,” she said. She stopped read­ing Trump’s Twit­ter feed when she woke up.

In the fi­nal weeks of the midterm cam­paign, she is mak­ing calls and go­ing door-to-door for Demo­crat Ja­son Crow, who is try­ing to un­seat Rep. Mike Coff­man (R) in Colorado’s 6th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict. In­spired by Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.) and his chal­lenge to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), she spent sev­eral days in Texas can­vass­ing for his cam­paign.

She has found an out­let for her anger and frus­tra­tions and is com­mit­ted through 2020. “Driv­ing home from that phone bank, it felt good,” she said af­ter an evening at Crow’s cam­paign of­fice. “It felt like I was help­ing. I was part of the so­lu­tion. It’s a ter­ri­ble feel­ing to wake up and just be in de­spair like I had.”

MELINA MARA/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Mem­bers of Pave It Blue, an ac­tivist group based in the At­lanta area, get some or­ga­niz­ing work done in Septem­ber at a brunch in Roswell, Ga. Across the coun­try, some women who have never been po­lit­i­cally ac­tive are vol­un­teer­ing ahead of the midterms.

Suzanne Hol­land is a re­tired teacher and master gar­dener in the At­lanta sub­urbs. “I wel­come im­mi­grants who are go­ing to come here and be­come ci­ti­zens, or even just work here and go back home,” she said. “That’s fine. But we just can’t have open bor­ders.”

PHO­TOS BY MELINA MARA/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Aurora (Colo.) City Coun­cil mem­ber Crys­tal Murillo drives to a meet­ing. She be­came one of three pro­gres­sive fe­male can­di­dates elected to the coun­cil, and the youngest. “This wasn’t about one par­tic­u­lar pres­i­dent,” she said of her de­ci­sion to run for of­fice.

PHO­TOS BY MELINA MARA/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Jas­mine Clark, cen­ter, is a sci­en­tist and is hop­ing to de­feat Repub­li­can in­cum­bent Clay Cox in Ge­or­gia’s state House Dis­trict 108 race. “If any­one would have asked me three years ago, ‘Will you run for of­fice?’ I would have laughed,” she said.

Repub­li­can ac­tivist Dede Lauge­sen places a flower ar­range­ment at her lo­cal Catholic church in Mon­u­ment, Colo. She loves what she calls the “orner­i­ness” about Pres­i­dent Trump’s tweets. “I like a guy who can speak his mind and get things done,” she said.

“I don’t need him as my moral com­pass; I’m my own moral com­pass.” Kelli War­ren, 54

“I went from be­ing a happy sci­en­tist to a mad sci­en­tist.” Jas­mine Clark, 35

“We hired him to run the coun­try, not raise our children.” Chris­tine Bec­nel, 49

“I thought, okay, I have to do some­thing.” Robin Ku­pernik, 54

Repub­li­can po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist Kelli War­ren do­nates books in Cum­mings, Ga. “I don’t need him as my moral com­pass; I’m my own moral com­pass,” War­ren said about the pres­i­dent. “You kind of have to look at what’s the end goal, and are you get­ting there.”

PHO­TOS BY MELINA MARA/THE WASH­ING­TON POST)

Carol Gantt, who pro­duces pro­gram­ming on lan­guage learn­ing and other top­ics in Ge­or­gia, quit CNN af­ter 14 years. “Now, if I want to bury my head in the sand for a day and don’t re­ally want to know what was said, what was done,” she said, “I don’t have to.”

“It made me sick to my stom­ach how un­safe I was.” Darien Wil­son, 47

Ev­ery­thing that de­fined her “had been repu­di­ated.” Yadira Car­aveo, 37

Trump’s alarming tweets are “ba­si­cally my morn­ing cof­fee.” Jen Helms, 56

“What both­ers me most is the peo­ple who be­lieve him.” Carol Gantt, 42

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