EDINA, Minn. — At a blowout bar in this politically divided Minneapolis suburb, talk of high school homecomings and upcoming local events gave way to something festering in Washington, a Supreme Court nominee accused of sexually assaulting a woman as a teenager.
Kerry Ciardelli, a 61-year-old interior designer who voted for Hillary Clinton, defended Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused Brett M. Kavanaugh of assaulting her when she was 15.
“She’s very credible, she’s very educated, she doesn’t want to be in the spotlight at all,” said Ciardelli, a Democrat whose daughter recently graduated from college. “For any woman to have to expose themselves to the ridicule and the judgment when they’re the victim — I think it’s really brave.”
Ciardelli has distant memories of when another woman, law professor Anita Hill, in 1991 accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. It wasn’t until she watched a documentary years later that she realized everything Hill endured.
“We didn’t really understand what she was going through . . . and all the games that were going on behind the scenes. And I feel like that’s going on again, and I don’t know how much will really change,” she said. “It feels like we haven’t come very far, and it’s just shocking to think that we’re right back where we were.”
But as with everything else in the United States, Republicans and Democrats were seeing things through vastly different lenses. Cindy Scriver, who sat next to Ciardelli at The Wow Bar Blow Dry & Style Bar, said she feels conflicted whenever a prominent man is accused of sexual misconduct.
“Some are real, and some are not real, or they are hyping them up. And I guess I’m protective of boys because I have five of them. I just said to them, ‘You can’t be anywhere alone with a girl without a parent there. You could be accused of doing something.’ And it’s sad. I shouldn’t have to be teaching that,” said Scriver, 49, a Republican stay-at-home mom.
“Obviously, there are people being abused, and that’s terrible,” she continued. “And, I don’t know, it’s hard to say what is real and what isn’t.”
Yet Scriver was speaking generically. She said she didn’t know about the accusations against Kavanaugh because she has tuned out most political news, finding it too critical of President Trump, whom she voted for and supports.
When the details were described to her, she added a lament: “It’s so hard to know if these stories are real or not. They come up so much. But if it is in fact real and he’s denying it, then I think this shows something about his character, and maybe he’s not a good candidate.”
Both women have long planned to vote in the November midterm elections. Both plan to vote their usual party lines.
In Washington, Republicans and Democrats have divided sharply over the dispute between Ford and Kavanaugh. As Thursday’s Senate hearing into the nomination looms, that is also true across the country. Interviews with dozens of women living in suburbs nationwide found conservatives who are skeptical of Ford’s motives or willing to forgive Kavanaugh for something that might have happened when he was a teenager, liberals who are once again appalled and angered by Republican men not seeming to take women seriously, and women of all political persuasions who just don’t want to think about it.
Some Republicans worry that the tentative hearing this week into Ford’s accusation could anger female voters, prompting a replay of the surge of pro-Democratic voting after Washington manhandled Hill. But some Democrats are concerned about a reverse backlash.
The last such national dispute carved along similarly partisan lines. After Hill testified against Thomas in 1991, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 27 percent of Americans believed her, including 35 percent of Democrats and 17 percent of Republicans. Among women, 29 percent said they believed Hill, compared with 25 percent of men — only a minimal distinction.
A Fox News poll released Sunday found that 38 percent of female voters believed Ford and 28 percent sided with Kavanaugh, while men were more narrowly split. The big differences again came by party: 59 percent of Democrats believed Ford, while 60 percent of Republicans believed Kavanaugh.
The plurality of women rising to Ford’s defense has been evident on social media in recent days. Partly in response to Trump, who criticized Ford for not reporting Kavanaugh’s alleged actions to authorities in high school, women explained their own reasons for keeping instances of abuse a secret using the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport.
“I don’t have any doubt in my mind that what she’s saying is true because it rings true to every person who’s been victimized. You know the era that we lived in; we were basically told to just kind of shut up and put up with it. That was the message for women,” said Corin Buskey, 53, who is running for the South Carolina statehouse in a deeply red district in the Rock Hill area, a suburb of Charlotte. “Dr. Ford, she was born in the same time era that I was born. She was in high school at the same time I was in high school. So I get her. And I understand.”
Buskey said she was assaulted in college and didn’t inform anyone. Only years later did she tell her mother and sister what had happened.
She was one of about a dozen women who gathered for breakfast at a Golden Corral on Saturday morning for a meeting of the Democratic Women’s Council of York County. They were frustrated by dismissive comments made by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) — and by Rep. Ralph Norman, a Republican who represents the Rock Hill area and joked last week that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had accused Abraham Lincoln of groping her. (Norman’s Democratic opponent, Archie Parnell, has been accused by his ex-wife of violently beating her — an accusation he has not denied.)
Vickie Holt, a 65-year-old retired flight attendant who is also running for a seat in the statehouse, said the accusation against Kavanaugh came up in a Facebook group that includes her former co-workers.
“One person just said, ‘You don’t have to answer, but I just would like to know, have you ever been victimized.’ I can’t tell you how many hundreds of yesses popped up in a matter of minutes,” said Holt, who added that she was assaulted by a relative when she was 11 and didn’t tell anyone for decades because she was ashamed of what had happened. “It’s rampant, and it’s awful.”
A day earlier, 15 women gathered in Rock Hill for a “Burn Boot Camp,” a 45-minute, high-intensity workout class marketed to “fit moms and women” — many of whom are trying to juggle work and children, not leaving much time to keep up with the news. Nearly all of the women declined to share their views on Kavanaugh.
Katie Thompson, a 25-year-old mother of three who works the boot camp’s front desk, said people in positions of power should be held to a higher standard and often are not. Still, she feels torn between wanting to give every woman’s assertion of assault full credit and wondering whether too many have taken advantage of the #MeToo movement.
“I feel like it’s hard because we have a whole women’s movement that’s finally finding their voices and finally being brave enough to talk about this stuff, feeling like it’s actually going to go somewhere,” said Thompson, who sided with Trump over Clinton because she considered him the “lesser of two evils.”
“I do think that there’s a fine line because there are some people who will try to take advantage of that voice and get attention or put someone down. And it’s like, how do you find the validity in what they’re saying? But, I mean, I would never discredit someone who’s brave enough to say, ‘I’ve been raped.’ ”
At a high school football game in the Houston suburbs Friday night, Alicia Lacy-Castille said she remembers being suspicious of Hill’s accusations of sexual harassment by Thomas. Lacy-Castille, who is African American, was in her early 20s at the time.
“I’ll be totally honest, this was an African American nominee, and that has happened how many times in our history? So I was like, where did she come from? Who put her up to this?” said Lacy-Castille, now 51, who usually votes for Democrats. “I thought it might have been a ploy to sabotage his nomination, initially. Now we know better. We started this whole Me Too movement.”
“Women typically are very passive, and we don’t speak up for ourselves, and then when we do, then they question the time period,” said Lacy-Castille, whose daughter is a high school freshman. “There are so many reasons now — as you get older and wiser, you learn there were reasons she didn’t speak up.”
Lacy-Castille, who works for the Houston Independent School District and is a school board trustee for the Stafford Municipal School District, said that she doesn’t know enough about the accusation against Kavanaugh — and that it’s worth “some deeper digging” before lawmakers vote on his nomination.
“There’s a lot of power in that position,” she said. “The confidence that the public needs to have to be able to trust the process is going to be compromised if we have someone in there who sexually assaults women.”
That same evening in the Tampa suburb of New Port Richey, a group of girlfriends gathered after work for drinks at a bar and brushed off Ford’s accusation as simply another attempt by liberals to smear Trump and thwart his attempts to improve the country.
The women questioned why Ford didn’t raise concerns when she was a teenager or when Kavanaugh first became a judge. One woman accused Ford of doing this “for a check.” Another accused her of “making a molehill into a mountain.”
“If it did happen to this woman, I feel bad, but come on. I think it’s a bandwagon against Trump,” said Nancy Bacher, 52, a registered Democrat who voted for John McCain in 2008, Barack Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016. “I think there might have been an incident at a party, but I think it wasn’t that vicious.”
She added: “They were kids. It’s not like he was doing this in his 20s.”
Bacher, who works as a baker at a grocery store, said that she taught her two sons, who are now in their 20s, to respect women and to not take advantage of them. She praised her own mother for teaching her to stand up for herself as a woman.
“Us women have never been treated fairly, ever,” Bacher said. “And it’s not going to change.”
Johnson reported from Washington. Saundra Amrhein in New Port Richey, Fla., Scott Clement in Washington, Brittney Martin in Houston, Kurt Shillinger in St. Louis, Dan Simmons in Milwaukee and Jodie Valade in Rock Hill, S.C., contributed to this report.