As Vice President Pence comes to central Pa. for Women for Trump event, GOP faces a gender gap

Lisa Mankiewicz sits in the audience during a training session for Women for Trump, An Evening to Empower, in Troy, Mich., Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019. (Paul Sancya/AP Photo)

Lisa Mankiewicz sits in the audience during a training session for Women for Trump, An Evening to Empower, in Troy, Mich., Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019. (Paul Sancya/AP Photo)

This PennLive article appeared on PA Post.

With Vice President Mike Pence coming to central Pennsylvania today for a “Women for Trump” event, President Trump’s campaign is focusing on both the Keystone State and its female voters.

Pence, Trump administration spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are slated to appear at the Radisson Hotel in East Pennsboro Twp. at 5 p.m. Less than two months ago, President Trump, along with Pence, spoke before a capacity crowd at the Giant Center in Hershey. The visit comes as the U.S. Senate is expected to vote Wednesday afternoon and rule Trump should not be impeached.

The Women for Trump event illustrates the campaign’s efforts to energize women voters, but the Trump campaign is struggling with a gender gap, polls in Pennsylvania show.

Pennsylvania is widely considered one of the nation’s most critical battlegrounds in the 2020 election and the Keystone State could decide who wins the White House, analysts say. So both Republicans and Democrats are aiming to connect with women voters.

In Pennsylvania, only 34% of women think Trump is doing an excellent or good job, compared to 43% of men, according to a Franklin & Marshall College poll released last week.

Vice President Mike Pence greets attendees prior to a National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, in Washington. (Steve Helber/AP Photo)

Madonna said the decision to hold a Women for Trump event in the Harrisburg suburbs indicates the campaign’s concern about reaching women voters in Pennsylvania.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt he faces an important test in winning the votes of college-educated women,” said G. Terry Madonna, a political scientist at F&M College. “He doesn’t do well in the cities and suburbs and that’s where college-educated women tend to live.”

A separate poll also showed Trump having difficulty with women in Pennsylvania and other key battleground states. The Baldwin Wallace University Great Lakes Poll found 49 percent of women in Pennsylvania would vote for the Democratic presidential candidate, while about 35 percent of women said they supported Trump. The poll also found double-digit gaps in support among women in the three other states surveyed: Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin.

“In general, we see the gender gap across all four states,” said Dr. Lauren Copeland, associate director of Baldwin Wallace’s Community Research Institute.

Nationally, the Gallup Poll released Tuesday found 49 percent of Americans surveyed approve of Trump’s job performance, his best approval rating since taking office. But in the Gallup poll, he fared worse with women. The Gallup poll showed 53 percent of men approved of his job performance, compared to 46 percent of women.

Groups advocating for women’s reproductive rights have assailed some of the president’s policies. The Trump administration moved to allow most employers to block coverage of birth control. State Attorney General Josh Shapiro led a lawsuit to prevent the rule from taking effect.

Last week, the House Democratic Women’s Caucus sent a letter to Trump to condemn what they termed a “continuing denigration of women in your rhetoric and policies.”

More than 600 people attended a Women for Trump rally in King of Prussia, headlined by the president’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

‘More jobs than workers’

Trump’s supporters contend the president’s policies are producing real results for women.

Bernadette Comfort, vice chairwoman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, cited the strong economy as a selling point for the Keystone State’s women voters.

“You have more jobs than workers available right now,” Comfort said. “Women care about those issues. We care about the same issues as men. We care about the economy, we care about security.”

While conceding a gender gap being shown in polls, Comfort said she sees plenty of enthusiasm among women, who are showing up to volunteer and working to re-elect the president. She said plenty of donations, particularly smaller contributions, are coming from women.

The Women for Trump organization is a key component in effort to galvanize more women, Comfort said. The group’s first public event last year occurred in Pennsylvania, with a kick-off rally at the Valley Forge Casino Resort. Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law, appeared at the event in the Philadelphia suburbs.

Now, the group is having an event in the midstate, an area where Trump must do well if he is to win Pennsylvania again. Trump won Cumberland County by 18 percentage points in 2016, but he lost neighboring Dauphin County by 3 points. Overall, Trump won Pennsylvania by less than 1 percentage point four years ago.

State Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, a York County Republican, supports the president. She said she sees plenty of support in her area, particularly due to the strength of the economy.

“In the district I represent, I feel like the support is there and it’s strong,” Phillips-Hill said. “I encounter many women who will lean in and say, ‘I support the president.’ I think there’s a lot of people who may not be loud about it but that support is certainly there.”

Trump supporters sing the Star Spangled Banner to kick off a Women for Trump rally in King of Prussia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Phillips-Hill said the constituents she has spoken with have not talked much about the president’s impeachment. She said she has occasionally heard complaints about Trump’s rhetoric and tone, even from those who support his agenda.

“You have to look at overall what’s being accomplished,” Phillips-Hill said. “Today’s economy is flourishing. The policies are creating new jobs. Women are in the workforce in higher levels.”

Rep. Sue Helm, a Dauphin County Republican, said she was in the rural community of Gratz in northern Dauphin County last week getting signatures to put Trump on the ballot. She said she witnessed plenty of enthusiasm for Trump and most voters are concerned with pocketbook issues.

“People do have more money to spend in their household because of what the president has done on taxes,” Helm said.

Democrats decry ‘branding effort’

Democrats and their supporters say they think women will make the difference both in Pennsylvania and across the nation, and not in the president’s favor.

Emily’s List, a national organization that supports pro-choice female candidates, said the group is working to make sure Pennsylvania women show up to vote for Democrats.

“The Trump campaign can target women voters, but they are doing so with a candidate who has undermined and insulted women and an agenda that would set them back,” Christina Reynolds, vice president of communications for Emily’s List, said in an email. “We believe Pennsylvania women will see through this branding effort and reject Trump’s record.”

Brendan Welch, communications director for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, said he finds the Women for Trump event in central Pennsylvania as “very encouraging.”

“We’ve seen these Women for Trump rallies taking place in areas where they know where they’re weak,” Welch said.

Women listen during a training session for Women for Trump, An Evening to Empower, in Troy, Mich., Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019. (Paul Sancya/AP Photo)

Rogette Harris, the chairwoman of the Dauphin County Democratic Party, said the Pence visit underscores the importance of central Pennsylvania to the Trump campaign. But she said the event geared to women rings hollow.

“Personally, it’s a joke to me,” she said. “A lot of policies the administration has been implementing and promoting, not counting the president’s attitude to women, the name-calling and such, have done nothing to advance women and the issues that concern women.”

Democrats are more motivated this year than they were four years ago, Harris said, because they know Trump has proven he can win in Pennsylvania.

“This time, Democrats are not going to take it for granted,” Harris said. “There was an attitude in 2016 that Trump was a joke and he’s not going to win. We’re not going to take him for granted. We’re going to do all we can to reach voters.”

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