Campaign 2016 Trump

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in New Hampshire on Thursday.

Mary Ann Mulhall is just one voter, but the Omaha woman represents the Republican Party’s worst nightmare in this year’s presidential election.

Mulhall has voted for Republicans most of her life. But this year, with Donald Trump at the top of the GOP ticket, she is planning to vote a straight Democratic ticket, from top to bottom.

Mulhall is angry with her party and angry with her party’s presidential nominee.

“I find him untrustworthy. I don’t believe a word he says. And when he says (inflammatory or false) things, the whole Republican Party is quiet,” said Mulhall, 52, who talked about the presidential race last week outside a Bed, Bath & Beyond store in west Omaha.

For Trump and the Republican Party, women like Mulhall may end up playing a key role in this election. To be sure, a majority of Republican women back Trump, but a significant number tell pollsters they may abandon their party’s presidential nominee in November, widening the gender gap between Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Overall, Clinton holds a 58 percent to 35 percent lead over Trump among registered female voters, according to a poll taken this month by ABC News and the Washington Post.

In that same survey, 72 percent of Republican women said they supported Trump — a large majority, but well below the 93 percent of female GOP voters won by Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race.

Trump has tacitly acknowledged his women woes in recent weeks, most notably by hiring Kellyanne Conway as his new campaign manager. Conway is a Republican political consultant whose career has been focused on helping GOP political candidates talk to women and win their support.

“It’s obvious the gender gap among women for Trump is huge. (And) it could play a role in the election,” said Kevin Smith, a political scientist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Several registered Republican women expressed either angst or anger with Trump in interviews with The World-Herald in west Omaha areas such as downtown Elkhorn or the Village Pointe shopping center. However, this wasn’t all good news for Clinton; a majority of those interviewed also said they could not vote for Clinton.

Most had no idea what they would do on Election Day. If they stayed home, several acknowledged, they could be helping Clinton.

“There is no good choice,” said Dianne Petersen, 51, of Omaha. “I have wavered between not voting because of my concerns (with Trump), but my family says that would help Clinton.”

Petersen said Clinton lacks both “integrity and morals,” and she could never vote for her. Yet she also questioned whether Trump is presidential material.

“I don’t know if I can vote for him. I don’t know. I’m a conservative Christian woman — a born-again Christian — and he’s not acting very presidential,” she said.

Petersen said she doesn’t know enough about the third-party candidates to support them. And she also said staying home is not an option, because she believes it is her civic duty to vote.

The gender gap is nothing new. There have always between some differences between the two political parties in the support each gets from men and women. Men typically skew slightly more Republican, Smith said, while Democrats have traditionally had a slight edge among women.

This year, however, the gap is considerably larger because of the controversial nature of the Republican presidential nominee.

Trump has a history of using inflammatory language that can alienate women. He has described women with whom he has sparred publicly as “bimbos” and “fat.” He once strongly implied that Republican rival Carly Fiorina was not good-looking enough to become the nation’s first female president.

“Trump has a gender gap problem that is more like a gender canyon problem,” Smith said. “Republican suburban women who can typically be counted on to vote for the Republican candidate are not a given this year.”

One thing that Republicans have to worry about, he said, is whether Trump could damage the Republican brand in the long term, especially among women.

If Gwen Aspen is any indication, that is a legitimate concern.

Aspen once was a rising star in the Nebraska Republican Party. She ran for the State Legislature in 2014 and came within 10 percentage points of unseating State Sen. Burke Harr, a Democrat, in a central Omaha district considered not-so-friendly territory for Republicans.

However, Aspen switched her party affiliation to independent this summer. The “tipping point,” she said, was Trump’s continued talk about banning Muslim immigrants and the fact that many Republicans seemed to agree. That came after a long election season during which Aspen said she began to question exactly what her party stood for if it could back a candidate like Trump, whom she believes is not a true conservative.

“When I saw that a majority of people in the Republican Party were for (the ban), I went online and switched my party affiliation,” Aspen said. “He has said a number of inflammatory things about Muslims, and I have Muslim friends. And (this country) actually relies on many Muslims to help with our involvements abroad.”

Republican leaders acknowledge that some GOP women may have problems with Trump, but they note that nearly three-quarters of Republican women tell pollsters that they plan to back him. Many of the holdouts will come around by November, they say.

Jon Tucker, chairman of the Douglas County Republican Party, said he believes few Republican women will vote for Clinton on Nov. 8. Even women who have problems with Trump believe that the Republican nominee would be better than Clinton, Tucker said.

“He’s not losing those women to Hillary,” Tucker said.

Jan Schuemann was one woman interviewed last week who described herself as an unabashed Trump supporter.

“I love him. Love, love, love him,” said the 66-year-old Republican from Papillion. “He’s our last chance to give our grandchildren a future in this country.”

She said she’s never been offended by anything Trump has said in connection with women, arguing that he makes those comments for effect. “I think he says whatever he’s got to do to get everybody’s attention,” Schuemann said.

Other women interviewed varied in their dislike of Trump.

Amanda Thelen, 38, of Omaha called him a “loudmouth” whom she could not support. “The building-the-wall stuff and the stuff he says about women, it’s derogatory,” Thelen said.

But Thelen doesn’t like Clinton, either.

“I don’t know. I might not vote,” Thelen said when asked what she planned to do on Election Day.

Colleen Fitzpatrick, an Omaha nurse, said it was hard to support a candidate who acts in such an “unprofessional” manner. She said she fears the worst about how Trump would interact with leaders of other countries.

“When I see him at a table with other countries, I worry he will not have any tact,” said Fitzpatrick, 53.

Still, she wasn’t convinced Clinton was the answer, saying the Democrat’s email controversy was a concern. She planned to make her decision closer to the election.

“It’s a crazy election year,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Finally, one older woman who identified herself as a Republican appeared to sum up the problem facing many GOP women in this year’s election.

The woman, who declined to give her name, said she doesn’t like Trump or Clinton.

“He scares me. But, right now, I would probably vote for him. He scares me, but I don’t want to see Hillary Clinton in there, either.”

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