Why women in North Carolina are struggling with their White House options

JUDY WOODRUFF: Rarely has the female vote held as much sway in a presidential race as this year, even before the recent allegations of sexual aggression were leveled against Donald Trump.

This week, I traveled to the crucial swing state of North Carolina — a state that voted Obama in 2008, but flipped to Mitt Romney and the Republicans in 2012. Four years later, there is no slice of the electorate being fought over more than college-educated, white women — and that's who we went looking for.

ELIZABETH WAKEFORD: I originally thought this cartoon of a man is not going to get very far. How could he? And here we are. And I am disgusted.

MICHELE HILMEY: This is just basically saying, "Well, boys will be boys." Not acceptable. Not acceptable to me. And certainly not becoming of someone I would wish to be our president.

KYLA GARRETT WAGNER: I wouldn't want that man in my home, I wouldn't want him in my classroom. So, I don't want him in my White House.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A few of the reactions from women voters we talked to in North Carolina. Even women looking for a Republican to support, were repelled they said by the 11-year-old video of Donald Trump.

DONALD TRUMP (R), Presidential Candidate: I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And coming in the final month of the campaign, it and the accusations of the past few days have thrown the already-crucial women's vote here into sharper relief.

HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN VOLUNTEER: Are you guys registered to vote?

JUDY WOODRUFF: If you needed proof of how much the Tar Heel state's 15 electoral votes matter, look no further than the campus of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Clinton volunteers were in a last-minute push to meet today's voter registration deadline.

Among the most coveted voters are college-educated white women, who in 2012 gave Mitt Romney a six point advantage nationally. This year, polls show Donald Trump is losing them by a staggering 30 points.

FERREL GUILLORY, Director, Program on Public Life at UNC: Frankly, women, women are gonna make up their own minds, you know, unlike you know, kind of the old South, where everybody voted together. And women went to vote the way their husbands did. I — I don't think that holds.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ferrel Guillory, a professor at UNC's School of Media and Journalism, says energizing millennial women is one part of Clinton's challenge.

FERREL GUILLORY: The millennial generation is now larger than the baby boom generation, but it doesn't vote with the same potency. So, she has the opportunity to bring new voters into the electorate, particularly women.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We sat down with two millennials, 18-year-old freshman Kim D'Onofrio and 25- year old PhD student Kyla Wagner. D'Onofrio had supported Bernie Sanders early in the primary process, but —

KIM D'ONOFRIO: When Hillary won the nomination, I just sort of accepted it immediately. It's important to have somebody who understands how that world works. But do you really think that Donald Trump would be able to — you can't just shove your foot through the door when it comes to American politics. You have to take your time. It's difficult.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Wagner is a registered Republican who wanted to see the White House back in GOP hands. And when Trump beat out the others, Wagner says she did give him serious consideration at first.

KYLA GARRETT WAGNER: I'd like to think I gave him an honest opportunity, but as a young woman, newly married, interested in not only the progress I'm going to have as a career woman, but as a mother, I just really did not feel and still do not feel like Donald Trump understands the needs of the holistic American woman. I do feel that Hillary Clinton will work tirelessly to get some of the issues I'm most concerned about addressed, paid paternity leave, reassurance that Roe v. Wade will stay, and the overall protection of women's health.

JUDY WOODRUFF: North Carolina is a top priority for both campaigns. President Obama was here just this week, Michelle Obama last week. On Tuesday, Mike Pence showed up in Charlotte. And today, Donald Trump is in Greensboro.

The voters they're looking for live in towns like Apex, which are exploding in population. Much of that growth is fueled by an influx of college educated workers who have come here to raise their families. The men tilt Republican, but statewide, college-educated women — who went for Mitt Romney four years ago — this time are struggling to support Donald Trump.

Fifty-one-year-old Elizabeth Wakeford has lived in North Carolina for decades. She's voted for both parties in past presidential elections, but not this year — she plans to write in a candidate.

ELIZABETH WAKEFORD: I would love for a woman to be president, I'm certainly not adverse to that, just not this woman. The emails are concerning in terms of national security. I do worry what might have been in there that got carelessly shared with others.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, that's Hillary Clinton. What about Donald Trump? What's your sense of him?

ELIZABETH WAKEFORD: It's kind of like a junior high student beating his chest going, "Oh, yeah, I'm going to get you, and this is how." And you think, really? You're an adult? You're running for office — the highest office in the land. What are you doing?

I cannot tell you how much I cannot stand that candidate. If I may make a comparison, Donald Trump is overtly distasteful. I find Hillary more covertly distasteful.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just 11 miles away, 41-year-old Kristen Wynns lives in Cary with her husband Kevin and two children, Zoe and Logan. A registered Republican, she runs her own psychology practice, went to an all women's college and is still struggling about what to do in November.

KRISTEN WYNNS: Putting my blood, sweat, and tears into my own practice for the last nine years, clearly, some of Trumps tax laws and his views on taxes and small businesses are quite appealing to me as a small business owner, but then I've got the women's college blood coursing through my veins. Love the idea of a women president. I'm raising two daughters, and some of Hillary Clinton's beliefs about closing the wage gap, affirmative action, girls and women not being the victims of abuse or assault.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Are you still struggling with your decision?

KRISTEN WYNNS: I am.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You think you're leaning one way or another at this point?

KRISTEN WYNNS: Can I be struggling and leaning at the same time?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes.

KRISTEN WYNNS: OK, then I think that's where I am.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That day, Wynns told us she was leaning Trump. But we've stayed in touch and today, she told us in light of all the allegations made by women this week, she's now truly stumped.

FERREL GUILLORY: Trump, with his words and with his life story, has demeaned women. It's the coarseness of the way he sees the world of men and women. And I think that's — that is destabilized a segment of the electorate that would ordinarily vote for a Republican like Mitt Romney or a Republican like John McCain.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Eight miles south of Cary, in the Raleigh suburb of Apex, the evidence of exploding growth is plain to see — new homes popping up everywhere.

Michele Hilmey, a New York transplant and registered Democrat, says the tone of the campaign has been particularly difficult, especially for her 8-year-old son Nate.

MICHELE HILMEY: Donald Trump was accepting the Republican nomination. We were all gathered around, we were actually visiting some family out of town, and I happen to look over at him and he was crying. And he was confused. He thought that Donald Trump was the president at that point. We had to explain that he was just accepting the nomination.

But when I pressed him as to why he was crying he said, "Mom, I hear on the TV all the time that Donald Trump hates women." That was shocking to me, I just couldn't believe that he absorbed that, that he gleaned that from conversations knowing that his mom, and his sister, and his grandma that he loved so dearly are women.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For now, Hilmey is undecided, but leaning toward Clinton. But she says she hopes for the sake of both her family and the country, the politicians who do get elected will work to find common ground.

MICHELE HILMEY: We cannot continue as a country to say, "I'm a Democrat, you're a Republican, there is no space in the middle," we cannot continue to have these extreme one-sided beliefs. There has to be ground in the middle or we'll never move forward.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And a note, as we reported at the top of the program, late today, North Carolina extended voter registration in 36 counties due to the flooding.

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