Novi, US – At the Michigan State Fair in Novi, about a 35-minute drive northwest of Detroit, ask any woman what she thinks of US President Donald Trump and opinions are mixed.
“Disappointing,” says Alice Lashbrook, 44, a school principal who isn’t affiliated with either the Republicans or the Democrats.
“I think he has a personal agenda to advance himself personally at whatever cost.”
But Erica Huston, 39, a registered Republican and Trump supporter disagrees. “I think he puts up with too much crap,” she says. “I think he’s doing amazing as a president.”
It’s Labour Day weekend across the United States, which culminates in a holiday on Monday for most Americans.
But for politicians, it’s typically the time they launch their final surge of their campaigns – especially this year, with about two months to go before midterm elections.
Still, the current cycle already looks a lot different. A record number of women are running for Congress.
“There’s an old saying in politics that says if you’re not at the table you’re typically on the menu,” says Lara Brown, director of the Graduate School of Political Management at the George Washington University.
“I think women feel that it’s time for them to have a seat at the table.”
‘He needs to clean up his mouth and his Twitter”
On November 6, Americans go to the polls to decide the fate of Congress.
Trump’s Republican Party currently controls both the House of Representatives and the Senate. But with one third of the Senate seats and all of the House of Representative seats up for election, Republicans will need all the support they can get to maintain control.
More importantly, the president will need all the Republicans he can get to head off any Congressional attempts to investigate him and his White House any further. Trump is already under a microscope as the FBI investigates his campaign’s ties to the Russian government during the 2016 presidential election. Five people, three of them with ties to his campaign, have already pleaded guilty in the probe. On August 21, Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, was found guilty on eight counts of financial fraud.
History is not on Trump’s side. The governing party has maintained both chambers in a midterm election only twice in the past century.
So, women could play a big role in the president’s future. A recent ABC News-Washington Post poll shows 57 percent of female voters want Congress to impeach Trump, compared with 40 percent of men.
Currently, there are a record 251 women running for a seat in the US House of Representatives, according to Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics. The overwhelming majority of them are running in opposition to Trump’s Republican Party, as Democrats.
Among them is first-time candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who shocked the Democratic establishment in June by upsetting longtime congressman Joe Crowley in the primary, as well as Democrats Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar who will be the first Muslim women ever to hold a seat when they are sworn in to the House of Representatives next year.
Tlaib once called Trump’s election “very painful” for women.
Trump’s uneasy relationship with women is well-documented. In 2016, his presidential bid was rocked by a leaked audio recording on which he was heard bragging about sexual assault. It was the only time Trump apologised publicly for something he said. He is still accused by at least 19 women of sexual misconduct.
Still, many women in the US aren’t bothered by those accusations.
“He needs to clean up his mouth and his Twitter,” says Chris Shively, 57, a Michigan voter who backed Trump in 2016. “But I respect the office more with him in there and trying to get around all the crap that’s been going on.”
Huston agrees. “Everybody makes mistakes in their life,” she says. “Nobody’s perfect but God and he’s [Trump’s] made his mistakes as everybody else who’s human has.”
‘Prove Trump wrong’
Although the increase in female participation follows a 30-year trend, Trump is one of the biggest reasons in this year’s candidate surge, according to Brown, from the Graduate School of Political Management.
“There’s this longtime sense that President Trump has not cared about women, has not spoken to women, has denigrated women,” she says. “So I think that there are women on the Democratic side of the aisle who are wanting to prove him wrong.”
Alexandra De Luca, press secretary for Emily’s List, an advocacy group supporting Democratic female candidates, agrees.
She argues Trump, coupled with the #MeToo movement where women began speaking more openly about sexual harassment and assault by powerful men, has given many people the confidence to step into the political arena.
“Women don’t traditionally raise their hand and say they want to run,” says De Luca. “Men look in the mirror and they see a Congressman.”
That changed after Trump’s election, De Luca says. In the month following his victory, she says they had 1,000 women sign up for training.
“We realised we had tapped into something,” De Luca adds. Since then, Emily’s List says they’ve had 40,000 women approach them. The vast majority of them are involved in local or state politics.
Gallup polling shows that while Trump’s support among female voters has fluctuated, it hovers around 37 percent.
Women continue to attend his rallies and events which have been packed to the rafters, evidenced recently in Evansville, Indiana.
Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, a White House adviser, has appeared more frequently in recent weeks at presidential events in an attempt to appeal to women. “She’s considered by many as a role model and I think she should be,” Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager, told Al Jazeera.
Expect Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara, to be campaigning regularly in the next few months, he adds, in an attempt to motivate female voters.
Republican women could make history, too. In both Arizona and Tennessee, states that have never had a female Senator, Martha McSally and Marsha Blackburn are running to fill an open seat.