In the fight for the votes of suburban women, there is no more representative place than Loudoun County, the ticket-splitting bedroom community in swing state Virginia that Hillary Clinton will visit Monday — and no better foil for her argument, perhaps, than Donald Trump.
Affluent suburban women are a key audience for Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, as she seeks to use Trump’s polarizing statements about women, immigrants and others against him. Clinton will hold a discussion about jobs, schools and other concerns in a bellwether county that narrowly supported President Obama’s reelection in 2012 and helped elect a Republican critic of Obama, Rep. Barbara Comstock, to Congress two years later.
Comstock has disavowed Trump but isn’t backing Clinton. The presidential candidate is hoping that women who think much as Comstock does about national security, the role of government and women’s equality will make that leap, though, and help her win Virginia.
The district is ground zero for Virginia and perhaps for the nation in the general election, said Dan Scandling, a Republican strategist who was chief of staff to Comstock’s longtime predecessor, Republican Frank R. Wolf.
“You have upwardly mobile, younger professional women,” who moved to Loudoun County for good schools and more affordable housing than in the closer-in suburbs that are more reliably Democratic, Scandling said.
Although many suburban women identify as Republican or independent, they often vote on the kinds of pocketbook issues Clinton is emphasizing in her presidential bid — workplace flexibility and fair pay for female workers, accessible health care, and affordable college tuition.
These voters have long displayed a willingness to look past ideological bright lines, and this year that could favor Clinton, whose open courtship is a bet that women who would not support her otherwise will be driven there by Trump.
Clinton is hoping independent and disaffected Republican men will also support her as an alternative to Trump, particularly on national security experience.
In Loudoun, Trump’s suitability as commander in chief also figures large, because much of the county is linked to a Washington economy dependent on the defense industry and government jobs.
“From the beginning of her campaign, Hillary Clinton has advocated for solutions to economic problems holding families back — like affordable child care and paid family leave,” said Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri. “These issues are concerns that working families have regardless of political views, and we believe they will be as important to voters in the general election as they have been to voters in the Democratic primary.”
Clinton is holding a small coffee-shop discussion with working families in Loudoun County as she focuses directly on a general-election contest likely to pit her against Trump, her campaign said. She will return to primary campaigning Tuesday in Kentucky, with a visit to a child-care center and a family health clinic. Kentucky holds its Democratic primary May 17, and Clinton’s rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), is favored.
Sanders has said he will remain in the race until the end of Democratic voting next month, meaning Clinton is likely to continue a two-pronged campaign that pairs primary electioneering with an emphasis on issues and places that will be key in the general election.
Last week, she visited Ohio, another swing state, in between stops in Kentucky and West Virginia, which votes Tuesday.
Clinton easily won Virginia’s Democratic primary earlier this spring, but the state is up for grabs in the general election. Loudoun has elected both Republicans and Democrats in recent state and national elections, sometimes at the same time. Loudoun voted for Republican Robert F. McDonnell for governor in 2009, then voted for Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, four years later.
Clinton’s campaign is making a very public appeal to disaffected Republicans whose reaction to Trump’s securing the Republican presidential nomination last week ranged from discomfort to horror. Each day since, her campaign has blasted Trump as risky, reckless or irresponsible, while inviting independent and Republican support.
“He doesn’t think much of equal pay for women because, of course, he doesn’t think much of women, it turns out,” Clinton said Friday night, at a campaign appearance in California where she also went after Trump on immigration, national security, abortion and the minimum wage. She called him the Republicans’ “presumptuous nominee.”
Married women and those 45 and older are a Clinton mainstay — choosing her over Sanders by large margins in the long primary campaign. She has also performed well with black and Hispanic voters, mostly in urban areas, and is now seeking to use Trump as a wedge to appeal to the same households in the suburbs.
Clinton has won white married women by a 57 to 42 percent margin over Sanders across states with primary exit polls this year, wider than her nine-point edge among white women overall. In Pennsylvania late last month, Clinton won white married women by 31 percentage points compared with a 16-point margin among white women and a 12-point victory among all voters statewide.
Trump’s unfavorability rating with women nationwide grew by more than 10 percentage points between entering the race last year and securing the nomination last week. It stood at about 70 percent in a Gallup poll in April. He fared no better among independent women in a Washington Post-ABC poll in early April. In that survey, 71 percent had unfavorable opinions of Trump, and 65 percent said their view of the then-front-runner was “strongly unfavorable.”
Clinton’s campaign, which once sought to ignore Trump as a distraction, is now highlighting his every utterance that might offend. That included a remark Saturday in which Trump appeared to refer to political correctness, a frequent theme.
“All of the men, we’re petrified to speak to women anymore,” Trump said. “The women, they get it better than we do, folks.”
Loudoun is part of Virginia’s sprawling 10th Congressional District, which also includes parts of suburban Fairfax and Prince William counties and stretches west to the Shenandoah region. A growing mix of affluence, high education levels and two-career households gives it a rare concentration of independent women with shifting political loyalties. Many say they dislike partisan rhetoric and ideological extremes.
Democratic-leaning D.C. suburbs have ballooned in size over the past two decades and proved a counterweight to more rural parts of the state that are lopsidedly Republican. The Northern Virginia suburbs fueled victories for Obama, in both 2008 and 2012, that ended a Republican winning streak dating to Richard Nixon, in 1968.
Huge Fairfax County is the center of Democrats’ strength, where Obama won by 21 percentage points four years ago, while he won by a narrow five percentage points in next-door Loudoun (52 to 47).
Loudoun represents the border between Democratic and Republican strongholds. Republican Mitt Romney won the more sparsely populated Fauquier County just to the south by 20 points and Clarke County by 13. Areas farther west tilted even more red.
Although most suburban women voters are white, Loudoun is also home to significant Muslim, Asian and Hispanic populations. The county’s Board of Supervisors is led by an African American woman, a Democrat.
Seventy-three percent of Loudoun residents are white. Nearly 1 in 5 are Asian, a factor that pushes the region in a Democratic direction. Nationally, Asians supported Obama 73 to 26 over Romney in 2012, according to exit polling. Thirteen percent of Loudoun residents are Hispanics, slightly lower than their share nationwide. Only 9 percent of the county’s residents are black.
Scott Clement contributed to this report.