ASHBURN, Va. — It is towns like this one, made of subdivisions and shopping plazas, that could well determine the presidential election — a place that neither political party can rely upon in a swing county in a swing state.
This November, Democrats hope that female voters can tip the balance in their favor.
According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Sunday, Hillary Clinton holds a 23-point lead over Republican nominee Donald Trump among women. But the support is nearly split among independent-leaning white women, with 47 percent favoring Clinton and 46 percent Trump. And many young women are brushing off any significance in Clinton’s being the first woman to be a major-party presidential nominee.
Here in Loudoun County, in the far reaches of the Washington suburbs, voters have chosen the winner of presidential and gubernatorial elections since 2004. And a snapshot of women here on a steamy afternoon shows that they are divided about whom to vote for, with some praising Trump’s business record and willingness to dispense with political correctness.
Trump held a rally at a high school here Tuesday, underscoring the importance of the county, one of the richest in the nation. Demographically, it is nearly 70 percent white, 18 percent Asian, 7.9 percent black and 13.6 percent Latino.
“You know, this is Loudoun County. Loudoun County’s a big deal,” Trump said in an interview with The Washington Post. Trump owns a golf course in the county.
In Virginia, voters do not register by party.
Bari Barton Cooper, a lawyer who now stays at home to raise her children, called Loudoun “a true epicenter and a bellwether of where Virginia will go.”
“Loudoun County is a very moderate county,” she said. “The people who are Democrats, at least in Ashburn, are people who can see you don’t always need to elect a Democrat to find someone who supports your values.”
In this election, however, Cooper is voting for Clinton. A Democrat, she doesn’t agree with all of Clinton’s policies: She said the former secretary of state is too hawkish when it comes to foreign policy. But she said she shares Clinton’s views on social issues and human rights.
“I’m very interested in having somebody in the White House that has a temperament that will allow us to move forward in a global economy,” Cooper said at a coffee shop here. “I trust she would never say anything that would harm us or our relationship with foreign nations.”
Cathy Brown, 53, who cares for her ill husband full time, said there are no circumstances under which she could vote for Clinton.
“I just despise Hillary,” she said.
The Republican said she sometimes has to “brace” herself to watch what Trump will say on television, but she thinks that his business successes and his love for his family make him the better choice.
Brown thinks that the news media have blown far out of proportion Trump’s feud with the Khan family — the Charlottesville parents who lost their son in Iraq and have harshly criticized the Republican nominee . She also thinks that the media are distorting some of what Trump has said about women. Brown loved Ivanka Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention, where she spoke about equal pay and maternity leave.
“She said there’s mostly women that work with him, and most people that know him seem to really have a lot of respect for him,” Brown said. “I’d like to believe that he’s not as hard on women as the Democrats or the media is making him sound.”
Jackie Tompkins of Ashburn said she also will vote for Trump, whom she called the “lesser of two evils.” But she said she thinks he will be better for the economy than Clinton because of his business record.
Other Republicans are planning to make a different choice this fall. Barbara Marshall said she is a staunch Republican who can’t remember the last time she voted for a Democrat. But she will in November.
Marshall, 79, will cast her ballot for Clinton, whom she views as seasoned and level-headed. She said she cannot fathom Trump occupying the Oval Office.
“He’s unfamiliar with politics. He’s rude to people,” said Marshall, who is retired. “He has one opinion, and that’s it. It’s sort of like ‘my way or the highway.’ ”
She was appalled at Trump’s feud with Khizr and Ghazala Khan and at how he speaks about women.
She said voting for a Democrat will be difficult but necessary this election. “I always thought the Republicans were more level-headed, and I always thought the Democrats gave away too much money,” Marshall said.
But this year she said her conscience wins out over her party. “I just can’t see him running the country,” she said of Trump.
Neelum Patel, a 20-year-old student at the University of Virginia, supported Bernie Sanders but now plans to vote for Clinton. She doesn’t like Trump’s treatment of minority groups.
“The minority vote counts, because we’re expanding,” she said, noting that most people’s families came to the United States from elsewhere.
“To say immigrants aren’t worthy of being here, it’s very hypocritical,” she said.
For Dana Cox, a retired teacher, Trump’s comments about the Khan family were too much and solidified her decision to vote for Clinton. Her youngest son was serving in the Army when he was seriously wounded in Afghanistan after his convoy hit an improvised explosive device.
“You just don’t go there,” she said of taking on a family whose child died in combat. “They lost their son for this country, and you don’t do that to those families.”
Others, like Andrea Ramsdell, remain undecided. Ramsdell, who was choosing between foil trays at a grocery store, thinks there has been too much division during this election season. As a Christian, she said she wants to see both parties return to something more civil and prefers someone who brings a faith-based perspective to the Oval Office. She doesn’t quite trust Clinton and doesn’t love Trump.
“But if I have to vote for someone, it will probably be Trump,” she said.
Scott Clement in Washington contributed to this report.