LAKELAND, Tenn. — If Democrats capture at least the House, they’ll owe the good fortune to Republican voters like Anna Smith.
The 40-year-old, college-educated mother of two young children is married to a Navy submariner and describes her politics as fiscally conservative, socially libertarian, and predisposed toward the Second Amendment. She’s a registered Republican who always voted Republican. But Smith couldn’t stomach President Trump, and his provocative conduct in office since the tumultuous 2016 election has compounded her disgust and hardened her opposition.
So, Smith is doing something unprecedented for her: volunteering on a major political campaign. With critical midterm elections four weeks out, she’s knocking on doors for Democrat Phil Bredesen, the former governor who is running for an open Senate seat in Tennessee against Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn.
Smith isn’t complaining about Blackburn’s support for the $1.3 trillion tax overhaul, or GOP plans to dismantle what’s left of Obamacare. She didn’t seem all that concerned about the conservative makeover of the federal judiciary, or all that motivated by the row over Brett Kavanaugh, whose Supreme Court nomination was roiled by sexual misconduct allegations. For Smith, voting Democrat is about stopping Trump.
“His behavior, making fun of people, mocking people, is just so distasteful and it doesn’t help anything. It’s not pushing things forward,” Smith said in an interview. “He is not a traditional Republican. I’m still here, is what I feel like. I’m still here as a moderate Republican and he does not represent me.”
Smith lives in Lakeland, a leafy, upscale community in suburban Memphis that is situated 25 miles east of downtown and marked by expansive lots and large, stylish homes. She sat with the Washington Examiner at her kitchen table on Thursday to discuss her work for the Bredesen campaign and decision to vote for a Democrat for Senate on Nov. 6.
Smith isn’t a threat to Rep. David Kustoff, R-Tenn., who is cruising to re-election in the conservative 8th Congressional District. But in suburban Philadelphia, or Orange County, Calif.; in suburban Denver or Minneapolis-St. Paul, she could be a majority-maker. There are perhaps millions of female voters just like Smith, in battleground districts across the country, who are poised to deliver the House to the Democratic Party.
The Democrats continue to lead the Republicans on the generic ballot gauging which party voter would prefer be in charge of Congress. The advantage is being driven by suburban women, historically supportive of Republicans in congressional elections but drifting because of dissatisfaction with Trump.
In a fresh poll for the Economist that was conducted by YouGov, 53 percent of women said Trump “exercises mostly bad judgment;” 54 percent of women said the president says things that are false either “all the time” or “often;” and 49 percent of women said they had a “very unfavorable” opinion of the commander in chief. Another 10 percent said they had a “somewhat unfavorable” opinion of him.
Additionally, only 33 percent of women approve of his job performance and just 26 percent find him honest and trustworthy. On the generic ballot question in this survey, women favored a Democratic Congress by 11 points; men preferred a GOP House and Senate by 1 point. That gender gap, a function of the president’s trouble connecting with women voters, could define Election Day.
“I am a Christian and I teach Sunday school. I’m active in my church, and the things that we talk about and hear about in church — the things that are in our sermon, the ministries that we do to help people — are the exact opposite of what I see our current president doing,” Smith said.
In 2016, Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in Tennessee by 26 points. The state is solid Republican territory that continues to think highly of the president. Bredesen has been competitive with Blackburn because he is a well-known and popular former two-term governor who even Republicans remember fondly.
But that wasn’t an influence on Smith, a relatively recent Tennessee transplant.
Raised in tiny Spencer, W.Va., she is a graduate of the University of Maryland, and has been on the go over the years, as is typical of military families. In Bredesen, she sees a way to put a check on Trump and return a sense of decency to public office, even it means accepting liberal policy outcomes in exchange.
“The main thing you have to be, I believe, to represent a group of people, is a decent human being, and so that’s first. And if you aren’t a decent human being, I don’t care what your politics are, I’m not going to vote for you,” Smith said. “And if you support somebody, blindly, who acts like that, you will not get my vote.”