NORFOLK, Virginia—To different people, President Donald Trump is a lot of different things. But to Alta Moorehead, a 74-year-old resident from Norfolk, he’s primarily just two.
“The man is a villain!” said Moorehead, who showed up to see former Vice President Joe Biden, riding the first true wave of electoral momentum he’s ever received, the night after his landslide victory in South Carolina. Then she offered her second description of the president. “He’s the devil.”
“I think women should be able to make a lot of their own decisions,” she added about ousting him from the White House and her role in helping to do that. “You know what I’m talking about.”
At his rally in Norfolk, just a few miles outside of Virginia Beach, a vast area that’s both suburban and swingy in nature, Biden was speaking to a lively audience bordering one of the most conservative parts of the greater Hampton Roads region. But women here share a similarity with those in solidly bluer swaths of suburbs: a firm acknowledgement of their influential rule in attempting to wrest political power away from Trump. Where they differ is in their ideas of how to do that.
“I’m just a one-issue voter,” said Jody McGarry, a self-described moderate from Arlington, Virginia, of removing Trump from office. “I’m right in that demographic”—a sweet spot of voters who could help achieve that goal in 2020—she recognized. But just days before her home state, which awards the fourth largest delegate haul on Super Tuesday, was set to vote, McGarry remained torn among Democrats.
She isn’t alone. The overwhelming sense that the president must be defeated—“blue no matter who”—one woman said, repeating a favorite catchphrase among Democrats was echoed in interviews with some two dozen female voters across two critical Super Tuesday states. “ABT” another woman put it: “Anyone But Trump.”
For much of the primary, Biden remained a shaky national frontrunner who had consistent fumbles on the stump and was routinely mocked by Trump and his Republian allies. After severely underperforming in Iowa and New Hampshire, his electability case was even more sorely bruised, with voters from both early states—sometimes even at his own campaign events—routinely asking if he was up to the task of running against the president.
But by the weekend, Biden had officially swung in the opposite direction: having won South Carolina’s primary by double digits, he revived talk among voters that he’d be the best Democrat to nominate.
In Virginia on Sunday night, Biden declared himself “very much alive” on stage. And he was. Showing up well over an hour late for his own event, the crowd seemed visibly unfazed, happy even, to wait for the newly energized candidate. The prior day, Biden picked up two top endorsements, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who spoke before him at Booker T. Washington High School.
“You came here to hear Joe,” Kaine said after delivering a lengthy speech, before introducing... not Biden. Seconds later, McAuliffe appeared on stage. “ARE WE FIRED UP FOR JOE BIDEN? the former governor screamed into the microphone. “You look at what’s happened to the Democrats in power here over the last several years,” McAuliffe said before listing off several state-specific party accomplishments from recent elections.
Biden’s ultimate success may very well depend on turning out the demographic of voters in the primary that Democrats are looking to lean on in the general. That’s evident in Virginia, where immediately following the 2018 midterms, reporters pointed to “an increased number of Hispanics and a growing college-educated white population” in shifting the traditional swing state away from Republicans. Biden is hoping those shifts will lift him too. And on Sunday, he got another boost along those lines when Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) threw her weight behind his candidacy. Wexton represents the state’s 10th District, which, prior to her more than 12-point victory in 2018, had been held by Republicans for 38 years.
But Biden hardly has the field to himself. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), fresh off of victories in New Hampshire and Nevada, is poised to take home several prizes on Super Tuesday. And as of now, Sanders and Biden are in close contention for pledged delegates, with 58 and 50, respectively. No other candidate is within close distance.
That narrowing of the field is factoring into women’s calculus for choosing candidates ahead of Tuesday. “Unfortunately this year my biggest concern is beating Trump,” Theresa Newbill, who showed up in Virginia Beach to hear Sanders speak on Saturday night, where he held a sizable rally the night before Biden held a smaller-scale event. “I wish my biggest concern was health care, or education, or any of the planks of the Democratic Party,” she said.
Newbill remains undecided.
While both Biden and Sanders represent ideologically opposite sides of the Democratic Party spectrum, several women who live in suburban areas conceded that they liked aspects of what each have to offer, and could vote for either one against Trump. But their perceived negatives (a self-averred democratic socialist in the case of Sanders, and broad doubt about whether he is up to the challenge in the case of Biden) led some to ponder a third option: former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“I’ve looked at all candidates [and] I came down to two: Biden and him,” Dewita Soeharjono, a Democratic activist said about Bloomberg. “I can’t have two boyfriends,” she joked, before listing several of the most important issues to her community: climate change, health care, and gun control, top issues that helped Democrats win the House majority in 2018.
Others pointed to a broad feeling that the country’s governing norms have descended into a state of chaos under Trump. “I’m very, very concerned about the situation in our democracy,” said Cindy Hoffmann, a health care executive from Leesburg, suburb of Washington, D.C. with about 50,000 residents. “I believe it’s becoming unraveled. I want to stand up and hold it together.”
Lois Silberberg, a 76-year-old resident of Falls Church, agreed.
“I can’t think of a more dangerous time for our society. Another term of Trump will take two generations or three to undo,” she said. That gnawing feeling led both women to a Bloomberg event targeted specifically to women in the wealthy suburban area of McClean, Virginia just three days before the primary.
Bloomberg has invested heavily in Super Tuesday, where he will make his much-anticipated electoral debut. Having only recently made two appearances on the national debate stage, which largely fell flat, the bulk of the billionaire’s strategy has hinged on a strong showing in the 14 states set to vote. And if the approximately $500 million he has spent on advertising didn’t make that case, it was crystalized by his heavy travel schedule.
The same day as Bloomberg’s McLean event, a few hundred miles away, a healthy crowd gathered at a rally for him in Wilmington, North Carolina, a fast-growing city on the coast. Residents described the city itself as solidly Democratic but surrounded by GOP-dominated rural areas inland. In between are sprawling, tree-filled neighborhoods like the one Bloomberg was rallying in.
North Carolina, which has long been dominated by conservatives, is slated to be a top-tier battleground state this year—largely on the strength of growing suburbs and newcomers from elsewhere.
Many of the dozen or so women who spoke to The Daily Beast here had recently moved to the state. Like in pockets of Virginia, nearly all had the same goal: defeating Trump in the fall. Most said they came to see the billionaire Democrat because they felt he could be best positioned to make that happen.
But that doesn’t mean they believe he’s the only one who can.
Much has been made of the possibility that Sanders in particular turns off the suburban voters who powered House Democrats to victory just two years ago. In Wilmington, only one said they wouldn’t be able to pull the lever for Sanders. “I think I’ll write in Bloomberg,” said Valerie Maitrie, a 63-year-old local resident. “Bernie has no credibility.”
Ashley Cooksley, a 45-year-old voter from the same area, said she likes the Vermont senator but worries about his prospects for winning. “I don’t think Bernie could win North Carolina, but Bloomberg could.”