Women voters — particularly those in the suburbs — are considered key to victory in the presidential race. In the Seattle area, these voters have trended more Democratic over the years.

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A Republican for 46 years, this is the first time Yvette Carter has had a hard time making up her mind about whom to vote for in the presidential election.

“It’s difficult,” said Carter, of Issaquah. “I would never have that woman to dinner, or as a friend; I don’t trust her,” she said of Democrat Hillary Clinton, whose gender is not enough to earn Carter’s vote.

“On the other side, we have a buffoon to run the United States of America,” she said of Republican Donald Trump. “I mean, I’m sorry. What do I do?”

Nationally, women voters — particularly those who live in the suburbs — are considered critical to victory in the presidential race in battleground states like Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

Behind the Vote

About the Series
The Seattle Times is exploring how the state’s political geography — from wheat country to Seattle’s tech centers, from suburbia to pulp-mill towns — is shifting in this historic election year.
  • Blue-collar jobs in timber and manufacturing continue to wane, leaving a cadre of traditionally Democratic voters economically and politically adrift.
  • The state’s Latino population is on the rise. But during last year’s general election in Yakima County — now home to as many Latinos as whites — only a small percentage of voters with Spanish surnames voted.
  • Puget Sound suburbs, once reliable ground for Republican candidates, are growing bluer as college-educated women tend to vote Democratic.
  • GOP voters in reliably Republican Lincoln County struggle with Trump — but he’ll win there anyway.
  • Even in close families and friendships, presidential politics has created such a strain that some people have agreed to stop talking until the election is over.
In stories, graphics and videos, “Behind the Vote” offers an election-year portrait of Washington state.

Clinton is counting on these voters to help her make history and put a woman in the White House. Trump, meanwhile, is trying to shrink Clinton’s clear edge among women.

Suburban towns in King and Snohomish counties used to provide a reliable harvest of Republican votes. But over a generation, this territory — particularly the more affluent, well-educated women who live there — has tilted more Democratic.

In the early 1990s, Republicans held all 12 seats in the four state legislative districts covering Bellevue, Kirkland, Woodinville and Issaquah. Democrats now hold eight of those 12.

The GOP saw its grip on the suburbs loosen as the party nationally focused on social issues such as opposition to abortion and gay rights.

“The national GOP seems to have gone out of their way to alienate women, particularly well-educated women,” Seattle pollster Stuart Elway said.

“What was the party of the PTA meeting and the backyard barbecue became the tea party and now the party of Trump,” said Chris Vance, a former chairman of the state Republican Party who is running against U.S. Sen. Patty Murray. “And we can’t win without suburban voters. The numbers don’t add up.”

Studies by the Center for American Women and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University have found that in every election since 1980, a gender gap has been apparent, with a greater proportion of women than men choosing the Democratic candidate in presidential elections.

This year, Trump’s bombastic style and insults toward women and minorities have alienated many voters, while Clinton suffers from questions about her honesty. Both candidates are the most disliked nominees in modern American history.

Still, an Emerson College poll released Thursday showed Clinton leading Trump among women in Washington state 49 percent to 35 percent. National polls have had similar results.

In Edmonds, Mary Kay Sneeringer said her main issue this election is simple: “That Donald Trump not be elected.”

Sneeringer, 59, co-owns Edmonds Book Shop with her husband. She said she hasn’t missed voting in an election since she was 18.

The direction of the U.S. Supreme Court, attaining “some form of gun control,” and women’s rights all are on her mind this campaign season.

She believes the history-making prospect of electing the first woman to the White House has, if anything, been underplayed. “The fact a woman will be president is exciting. It’s long overdue. About time,” Sneeringer said.

She said her work at the bookstore — meeting people who like to read, exposing herself to all kinds of people and ideas — has shaped her as a voter. She enjoys talking with people of every political stripe, she said, but with civility, something she sees lacking in Trump’s brand of politics.

Petra Rousu, 57, owns The Savvy Traveler in Edmonds and is a native of Germany. She moved here more than 30 years ago and became a U.S. citizen to vote for Barack Obama. Coming from Germany, led by a woman chancellor since 2005, to her if anything it is surprising the U.S. has never elected a woman to the nation’s highest office.

But her issues in this election year are about more than gender. She sees an unrest and edginess stirred up by Trump’s rhetoric.

“There is that anxiety, insecurity, an anger out there every day. You are burdened by negative news, bombarded by it, you can’t get away from it,” she said. “It’s been one of the angriest, most negative campaigns ever.”

Rousu’s employee, Kirsten Myers, 28, of Edmonds, turned sad when asked about this election year. A self-described independent voter, she said she has been shocked at the political climate, particularly as a gay married woman.

“It’s surprising he was able to leap into such a strong current of anger,” she said of Trump. “ It shows where we are as a country. I think we are at a crossroads.”

Yet she remains hopeful. “We’ve come too far to even entertain the possibility of regression,” Myers said. “I believe we are better than that.”

Olga Farnam, of Snohomish, said Trump’s candidacy resonates with her personal story. Farnam, a caucus and convention chair for the Snohomish County Republican Party, said her Hispanic heritage made her gravitate to Trump’s message.

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“Build a wall? Hell yeah,” said Farnam, 55, who said her experience living in border towns such as El Paso, Texas, was a searing education.

Farnam decried “anchor babies” born to Mexican women who she said crossed the border to deliver a child who would be entitled to U.S. citizenship and social benefits.

She also talks about drug cartels that she said floated drugs across the river and into the United States on inner tubes. “It is awful, and unless you have lived there and experienced it, you don’t know,” she said.

Farnam started out as a Marco Rubio supporter during the presidential primaries but now backs Trump. That’s partly because he’s the Republican nominee, “and I am a will-of-the-people person.” But she also likes his message of self-reliance.

“You get out there and make your own way. Work two jobs if you have to, if that’s what it takes,” Farnam said. “That’s what I did until I got married. I was slopping Cokes and waiting tables straight out of high school, and when I quit waiting tables, I worked the evening shift at the hospital.”

For Carter, the Issaquah voter, an open letter from 88 retired generals and admirals earlier this month announcing their support for Trump made her feel better about him.

“I’m military,” said Carter, who explained her father was a prisoner of war in World War II, and her first husband died of cancer, believed caused by the use of napalm while he was fighting with the Marines in Vietnam.

“I don’t feel safe with her, and if he has enough good people around him, maybe he will learn,” Carter said. “And the thing that has really supported me in it is listening to the generals in the military.”

Carter said Clinton “has this la-la idea, that idea that we can take the whole world and hold hands, and that is not human nature.”

But watching Trump in the first debate Monday with Clinton was disappointing, Carter said. “Can he really do what he says? And who is he anyway? We don’t really know.

“This whole thing makes me want to just eat a bag of Tootsie Roll pops and be stupid.”

Despite her concerns, Carter has decided to vote for Trump. “Between that and the same old crap, I am going to take a chance.”