FLORIDA - Amandia Craig, a 29-year-old mother of two and owner of a beauty salon in Tampa, Florida, says she’s at a place in her life where she can appreciate the historic moment that would happen if Hillary Clinton is elected the first female president.
“We rule the world anyway – why not? I don’t know why this is the first time it had to happen,” Craig says at the Clinton campaign field office in Tampa where she volunteers at a phone bank.
Florida’s early voting numbers show women turning out in higher numbers than in the past. In an election season often dominated by a discussion of women’s roles in politics and American society, and with more than half of the state’s electorate composed of female voters, women here will have a powerful say in electing the next president.
Issues vs. allegations
Campaign ads aimed at female voters this election season have had to balance an emphasis on policy issues with the acknowledgement this has been a unique election season, giving women the choice between the first female presidential nominee and a candidate who has sparked a lively national debate about women’s issues with his controversial comments.
Hillary Clinton used some of Trump’s own words against him in a campaign ad asking Americans what kind of president they want for their daughters. The ad stood out to sixth-generation Florida voter Liz Johnson, who took her five-year-old daughter into the voting booth during the primary elections so she could begin to learn about the democratic process firsthand.
Johnson – a former Bernie Sanders supporter who will support Clinton in the general election – says it’s unfortunate that the run up to the election has been dominated by Trump’s statements and allegations about his treatment of women.
“I’m disappointed in both candidates not being more on point on their platforms because it’s easy to go down the accusatory path and say ‘Vote for me, because you don’t want him,” she said.
The concerns about a lack of substance are shared by female Trump supporters, who argue the allegations against the Republican nominee are meant as a distraction to derail his candidacy.
“I’m not voting for a new Sunday school teacher. I’m not voting for a new preacher in my church. I’m not voting for a new life coach,” says 49-year-old Trump supporter Elle, who asked that her last name not be used. “I’m voting for someone that I believe will be able to lead the country back to where we’re supposed to be.”
Dana Gordon found herself more involved in politics this election because of Trump and has taken to defending the candidate on social media under the popular hashtag WomenWhoSupportTrump.
“This election is much more passionate because the two candidates couldn’t be more different,” Gordon says. “It’s natural that women care about their country, too, and we’re smart,” she says, listing all of the issues that take precedence for her over the leaked Access Hollywood tape recording in which Donald Trump boasts about groping women. “We can overlook a mistake that someone did eleven years ago and look at the bigger picture.”
The senior vote
But concerns about Trump’s character have been too much for life-long Republican Linda Fogg, who created the group Republicans for Hillary at The Villages, the nation’s largest retirement community.
"If you had told me a year ago that I’d be in a position where I’d be voting for Hillary Clinton, I would have thought that’s crazy,” Fogg said.
Electing the first female president is “a nice freebie,” Fogg says, but her vote for Clinton is ultimately about putting the most responsible person in the White House.
But Trump also has very visible support at The Villages, including regular rallies featuring golf carts decked out in signs for the Republican nominee.
Asked about Trump’s controversial comments about women and the sexual assault allegations, Marina Woolcock, the president of the Federated Republican Women’s Club for The Villages, turns the discussion back to election season issues, listing security and openings on the Supreme Court as some of the key matters for the women in her group.
“We’re supporting Donald Trump because he is speaking to the agenda of the Republican Party,” she says, “We don’t vote for women just because they’re women. We’re voting for the person we think can lead the country at one of the most critical times we could be facing.”
These older women see this complicated and often exhausting election season with a longer-term perspective. They remember past female candidates like Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin, but they are voting forward.
“We’re not voting for us, our history is behind us,” Woolcock says. “We’re voting for the children and the grandchildren.”