What was interesting — and illuminating — was that the names of the candidates themselves rarely came up. Then again, maybe it wasn’t surprising. Perhaps that is what it takes to remain civil these days.
Instead, these women talked about their lives and the stresses that are shaping daily existence in 2020.
One woman named Mary lost her job in the covid-19 pandemic and finds herself facing the scary prospect of “starting all over again.” Elaine, who normally is a poll worker on Election Day, thinks the job would be too dangerous this year. Jane feels “Zoomed out” and is missing the human contact she enjoyed working in government and politics since 1962.
Joanne has friends who lost their house because of medical setbacks, and says that in a region where advanced medical treatment is available, “nobody should have to suffer and die here because they can’t pay for health care.” Anita worries about the cost of drugs, especially insulin. Michele finds it “unconscionable” that anyone could talk about getting rid of the Affordable Care Act without having a plan to replace it.
Several wondered whether Social Security will be there as a safety net for their grandchildren, the way it is for them. And is anyone ever going to do anything about the deficit?
There was a discussion as well of racial justice and the reckoning they agreed is overdue. Sally Jo said, “I want to hear someone talk about how they are going to bring this country together.”
So it was striking to me, a couple of hours later, when President Trump mocked Democratic nominee Joe Biden for talking about “ ‘the family around the table, everything.’ Just a typical politician when I see that. I’m not a typical politician.”
If only he were. If only Trump could focus on these women’s concerns and address them, rather than speaking in code aimed at the Fox News prime-time audience: “AOC plus three.” “Russia, Russia, Russia.” “The laptop from hell.” The president also made a puzzling reference to “pillows and sheets” with regard to Ukraine.
The women I heard from on Thursday night are part of a prized demographic this season. Pennsylvania is a battleground, potentially the most crucial one of all. In 2016, voters age 50 and older accounted for more than half the Keystone State electorate.
No Democratic presidential candidate has carried the Medicare-eligible generation’s vote since Al Gore in 2000, when it was a cohort whose political roots went back to the New Deal.
In some ways, this move away from Trump is understandable, given that older people are the group most vulnerable to covid-19, and his handling of it is generally regarded as abysmal.
But, in fact, the shift began even before the coronavirus appeared on the scene. My own theory is that it comes in part from the fact that older people are more attuned than younger ones to the news, so they see the president’s disturbing behavior on a daily, even hourly, basis.
As is the case elsewhere in the electorate, there is a sharp gender gap at work. Older women are rejecting Trump, while men their age are largely standing by him. In AARP’s most recent Pennsylvania poll, for instance, the president is winning against Biden among 50-and-older men, by a margin of 56 percent to 41 percent; Biden is leading among women in that group, by 58 percent to 40 percent.
As time for the presidential contenders’ much-anticipated final televised faceoff approached on Thursday night, the Pennsylvania women bid each other goodbye.
Jan may have been speaking for all of them when she said: “I get very frustrated that both candidates consider seniors a political football. The common sense of women is missing in this debate."
There’s one place, however, that you can be certain it will be felt. That is when the election returns start rolling in on Nov. 3.