Matt Rourke/AP
Members of the audience listen to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speak during a campaign stop in Coral Springs, Fla., on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016.

In Florida, Clinton rises with help of women – and maybe Miss Universe

Clinton widened her lead in the biggest battleground state after last week’s debate, in which she pilloried Trump for mocking beauty queen Alicia Machado's weight gain.

It’s not often that one finds grandmothers at political rallies with their grandchildren.

But the reason Marilyn Leeds felt so strongly about coming to a Hillary Clinton rally in a gymnasium in this South Florida suburb is that she’s worried about the future of the country for her eight grandchildren. And so Mrs. Leeds brought along her granddaughter Rachel, a local 10th -grader who was excited to see the woman who may be president.

“She’s not my favorite candidate. But I do believe she’ll work for the country,” says Mrs. Leeds, who backed Bernie Sanders in the primary. In the months since Bernie dropped out, she has grown more impressed with Mrs. Clinton, and more baffled by girlfriends who say they’re voting for Donald Trump, the Republican candidate with a track record of insulting women.

Ilene Prusher
Marilyn Leeds and her granddaughter Rachel attend a Hillary Clinton rally in Coral Springs, Fla.

“When Trump says she doesn’t look presidential, what does he mean by that? She’s not beautiful enough?” asks Leeds, as Rachel grimaces. “We hold women to a different standard than we hold men to – and women are sometimes more critical of women than anyone else.

In Florida, the biggest battleground state of this election, Clinton seems to be edging ahead with women – but just barely. In the wake of last week’s debate, in which she pilloried Trump for mocking the weight gain of beauty queen Alicia Machado in his Miss Universe pageant, she gained three points among women voters in Florida and widened her lead in the state to 46-42 overall, according to Mason-Dixon Polling.

“I think it is probably wrong to say that women do not like Mrs. Clinton. She is leading among women in most polling by a significant margin,” says Kevin Wagner, a political scientist and public opinion expert at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. “However, it is fair to wonder why the first woman presidential nominee of either major party has not drawn a greater degree of support, especially among younger women.”

Prof. Wagner has three theories as to why that is.

“One, younger women who were not alive during the push for equal rights may not be as invested in the success of Mrs. Clinton. They may not identify with the gender equality struggle,” he explains in an e-mail. “Two, Clinton has been more moderate on some issues and that has hurt her with younger voters, both men and women. Three, many women do not see themselves as defined by gender in their voting choices.”

According to a Mason-Dixon poll conducted by phone Sept. 27-29, Clinton is leading 54-36 among women, up from 51-37 in their previous poll.

But that level of support can vary widely depending on education levels and ethnicity. A Monmouth University poll from August showed Trump leading among white women without a college degree 49 percent to 32 percent, but Clinton leading Trump among women who have at least a bachelor’s degree, 57-27.

Still, even among more educated female voters, there are women who are skeptical of Clinton, if not outright disdainful of her.

“I’m an MBA, and I think this country needs to be run like a business,” says Kathryn Schwartz, a middle-aged women from Miami, who held up a “Make American Great Again” along with a gaggle of Trump supporters outside the Clinton rally. “That’s really what matters most to me – not that she’s a woman.”

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