While she supports the protests — her 23-year-old son participated in them — she’s upset by the uptick in shootings in areas of the city she used to love to visit, and afraid the violent crime could spill over into her suburb. She’s horrified by calls to defund the police.
“It’s really a horrible thing to see what’s happened,” she said. “Lawlessness is everywhere.” Things have gotten so bad, she said, that her neighbor is selling her house and moving up north, further away from the city.
Vevang Anderson is among the suburban women President Trump is targeting with his law-and-order message at the Republican National Convention this week, through tweets directed at the “Suburban Housewives of America” and in television campaign ads falsely suggesting Joe Biden supports defunding law enforcement. He’s counting on them to help him flip competitive states like Minnesota, which he narrowly lost in 2016, and which Vice President Pence will visit Friday.
“In some suburbs, [women] make the critical margin of difference,” said Kathryn Pearson, an associate professor of political science at the University of Minnesota. “If it were just up to men voting, Trump would have won in Minnesota.”
That’s why the GOP has focused so heavily on these women this week. On Wednesday night, outgoing White House counselor Kellyanne Conway praised Trump for elevating women to senior positions and helping her “shatter a barrier in the world of politics.” Earlier in the week, a video montage highlighted mothers among White House staffers, and Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel referred to herself as a “a real housewife.”
The convention’s speakers have also sought to portray Trump as a defender of law enforcement and to link Democrats to violence in major cities. “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America,” Pence said Wednesday night.
But when Trump speaks on Thursday night, Vevang Anderson won’t be watching. Despite supporting him as a candidate four years ago, the small-business owner and longtime conservative can’t bring herself to vote for him again — or to even watch him on TV.
“Trump’s lost his moral authority with me. He’s so bombastic and he’s cried wolf so many times,” said Vevang Anderson, who owns a salon that has struggled to stay afloat amid the pandemic. “I don’t even know at this point what he can do to regain my confidence in him.”
While she believes Joe Biden is a “good man,” she’s not set on voting for him either. She worries that he’s simply a figurehead being propped up by the Democratic establishment, a party that contradicts so many of her conservative, small-government views.
“I have turned my TV completely off,” said Vevang Anderson, who used to be heavily engaged in politics, and who majored in American studies in college. “I have not even seen Biden speak. I don’t even know how to pronounce his running mate’s name. I just can’t take in what’s happening in the news.”
Not everyone feels so disengaged. GOP organizers are aggressively campaigning in these districts, adamant that a “silent majority” of conservative women is energized to vote for Trump. A hot-pink “Women for Trump” bus drew crowds on a tour through the state last week and made stops in several suburban towns.
Several conservative women in the Twin Cities suburbs said they did not know any friends or neighbors who voted for Trump in 2016 who weren’t planning on voting for him again. “Everyone I know who was on the fence does not regret it,” said Wendy Eckman, 71, of Minnetonka.
Her friend Holly Barnhill Hernandez said Trump wasn’t her first choice in 2016, but she did end up voting for him, and looks forward to supporting him again. Barnhill Hernandez, who is president of the Northwest Metro Republican Women group, has been pleased by the list of conservative judges Trump has nominated, and how he has kept his promises and overcome “incredible obstacles,” such as “the Russia collusion.”
“He stands up for people and fights back, and that’s kind of refreshing,” said Barnhill Hernandez, a 61-year-old teacher who lives in the suburb of Plymouth. “I don’t see anyone who has shifted away from him.”
In fact, she said she’s noticed increased interest in the organization; at an event last week, 10 new people showed up, she said. But it’s hard for her to gauge how many of her neighbors actually support him.
Minnesotan neighbors, particularly in suburban areas, tend to keep their politics to themselves, and Barnhill Hernandez and other Trump supporters she knows don’t feel comfortable putting signs in their yards or bumper stickers on their cars, she said. The only lawn signs she sees in her suburb are for Democratic candidates and Black Lives Matter.
Suburban districts have moved left in recent years, in Minnesota and across the country. Women in the Minneapolis suburbs turned out in large numbers in 2018 to unseat two Republican incumbents, including in Vevang Anderson’s district.
Polling suggests that trend may continue. Nationwide, women now favor Democratic nominee Joe Biden by 23 percent, according to an average of national polls since late June. And according to a mid-July Washington Post-ABC poll, women trusted Biden over Trump on questions of “crime and safety” by 23 percentage points, 57 percent to 34 percent.
In Minnesota, a Star Tribune poll in May found that 63 percent of women statewide disapproved of Trump’s performance as president, an 8 percent rise from a February poll in his disapproval rating among women in the state. The increase was even bigger in the suburbs, according to the Star Tribune.
But Biden’s ability to capture the state will depend on women in these suburbs turning out to vote, said David Schultz, a political science professor at Hamline University.
“It’s less likely that they’ll vote Republican and Trump, but they might just say, ‘I’m not going to vote,’” Schultz said of women in these suburbs. “If he can’t bring them over, he can at least try to push them out.”
Democrats in the state have crafted their own message on law and order, one that they hope will energize suburban voters.
When a Republican state lawmaker in June demanded that Minnesota’s governor apologize to “moms out in the suburbs scared to death” about the protests, state Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (D) responded with a hashtag that took off on Twitter: #IAmASuburbanMom.”
“I am a suburban mom. I don’t need an apology,” she tweeted. “I need the GOP Senate to support meaningful legislation to address systemic racism and police brutality.”
State Sen. Melisa Franzen, who became the first Democrat elected to her seat in 2012, said she believes women in her suburban district won’t fall for Trump’s “scare tactics,” particularly when it comes to public safety.
“I just don’t think it’s going to work,” she said. “We’re not going to put up with it.”
The suburbs around Minneapolis have grown increasingly diverse as well, which is reflected in their elected officials. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D), the first Somali American in Congress, represents a nearby district.
For her part, Vevang Anderson is ready for a broader message. What she needs is more leadership in Washington, she said, especially for business owners like her who are struggling in the pandemic. She owns a salon and a co-owns a spa, and both of the businesses were shut down for 10 weeks. Even now, business is down about 20 percent, and her employees have occasionally had to quarantine while waiting for test results. She needs faster and more widespread testing, she said, and “some kind of confidence in the marketplace.”
In reading over the news coverage of the RNC, she was shocked that the pandemic was rarely discussed. And watching the news out of Kenosha, Wis., she worried about how Trump would respond to the civil unrest. She feared he might once again take “a threatening approach that just ratchets up the violence.”
She wishes Trump would put aside his Twitter account, pledge “not to be petty” and focus on reviving the economy, she said.
“I’m just resigned to the fact that he’s not going to be that guy,” she said. “He’s got a long way to go to convince me to believe him again.”