Why you should care
Because these are the people who will decide the election.
Shamike Bethea, 38, Fayetteville, North Carolina
What’s it like to be a Black female Republican in 2018? Shamike Bethea replies: “Check out my Facebook page.” There, the daily jousting turns toward whether she’s truly Black and how she could support a man like Donald Trump.
How? Because the tax cuts have put more money in her pocket, the economy is booming and she just digs the president’s style. “I was in the military, and I like leadership,” says the Army veteran. “You know what Trump is about. He’s not really diplomatic, but you know what he stands for.”
On a cool October morning, Bethea is handing out fliers for the county Republican Party to early voters at a recreation center outside Fayetteville. We’re in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District — one of the closest contests in the country, where the candidates present a stark contrast. Democrat Dan McCready, a moderate Marine veteran, is facing Mark Harris, a conservative Baptist preacher who took out incumbent Rep. Mark Pittenger in a Republican primary in May. Bethea’s face lights up when you ask about Harris, whom she describes as passionate, knowledgeable and “so full of energy.”
As far as she’s concerned, African-Americans’ longstanding support of the Democratic Party hadn’t gotten them much of anywhere, and she blames big-government policies for racial gaps in economic opportunity. She did not vote for Barack Obama, and thinks he did not do enough to advance “Black issues,” in any case. “You get it when you come out as a Black Republican,” Bethea says, but she’s up for the fight.
Gail White, 54, St Louis
On a chilly evening at Public Media Commons in downtown St. Louis, Gail White huddled under a flowing checkerboard jacket to watch the Missouri Senate debate between Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican Josh Hawley. A mother of two living in the suburbs, she has only backed one Republican for president in her life — Ronald Reagan — but gives conservatives credit at times, saying she thought John McCain would have been a solid president. “He was generally a good man. He didn’t talk out of two sides of his mouth,” she says.
Party labels, she says, are outdated anyway. “It has to come down to who is the best candidate,” White says. “Who will do best for the country and not just for themselves?”
Such cross-aisle rhetoric is emblematic in a purple state with one of the closest Senate races in the country. And it’s felt not just at the ballot box, but in her own home. While she leans left, her son, Seth, an 18-year-old first-time voter, is trending conservative. The night before the debate, they invited his uncle over to talk politics. One thing that united them all: the perception that discrimination was rising nationwide, and a desire to protect women’s and LGBTQ rights. “Racism has come full force again, and that bothers him,” she says.
Their disagreements lie in priorities. For her, health care tops the list, particularly protections for preexisting conditions. “The Affordable Care Act is not perfect, but why tear the whole thing up?” For him, military spending and immigration. “He wants us all to be safe,” she says. “Not necessarily build that wall, but how can we address the situation without alienating people?” However, White doesn’t worry about her house divided. “We do the same thing over sports: Cardinals vs. Cubs,” she says.
Claudia Fitzwater, 37, Atlanta
When she arrived as part of an international exchange teaching program, Claudia Fitzwater didn’t expect to build a life in the Peach State. But the Colombian woman found love after teaching in the Atlanta area for five years, got married and continued to teach. After the couple had a daughter, Fitzwater had to drive nearly two hours each day to and from her in-laws for three years, because they couldn’t get off the waiting list for an affordable daycare.
So when Stacey Abrams, the Georgia Democrat running for governor, announced a campaign built on more compassionate immigrant laws, additional funding for education and more accessible childcare, Fitzwater was thrilled. Abrams was a stark contrast to the Republican nominee, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who ran primary ads promising to “round up criminal illegals” in his pickup truck. “You can’t destroy our life and think that everybody who comes into the United States is coming to take people’s jobs,” she says.
“I was chosen to come here. Every year, they are trying to find teachers that want to come and teach,” she adds. And her contribution has been meaningful. As a teacher at the first STEM-certified school in Georgia, an innovative approach that combines STEM learning with arts education, she has seen in just four years the change a strong school can make in a beleaguered community. “Our neighborhood was called Little Vietnam, one of the most dangerous and violent neighborhoods in the United States,” she says, but academic scores have improved, local property values have risen and the community is becoming safer.
It’s a testament to the way immigrants can help America, and she doesn’t believe it’s confined to legal immigrants like herself. “I have strong feelings about candidates like Kemp who say that every immigrant is coming here to steal resources and commit crimes,” she says.
Zach Conover, 29, Phoenix
What’s a day in the life like for a pro-life protester? In the parking lot outside a women’s center in Phoenix, Zach Conover explains that he shows up to different clinics all over the valley two or three times a week. Conover can barely be heard over his colleague, just a few feet away, who’s speaking without pause into a blaring microphone.
Over the whiz of passing cars, Conover explains that while he has conservative values, he thinks both parties have consistency problems. He feels a weight to protect his “smallest and most defenseless neighbors.” He does not think abortion should be illegal nationwide but says states — not unlike with marijuana laws — should be able to make those decisions.
Someone shouts from a moving car. “That’s normal,” Conover says. Though a divisive Senate race has unfolded in his home state, he hasn’t decided yet if he’ll vote. Formerly a registered independent, the last ballot he cast was in the Obama-Romney contest of 2012, when he wrote in a third party.
“I guess you could call me a one-issue type of voter,” Conover says. His voice is measured, his eyes wide and engaged. What would really motivate him? If a candidate came out and said pro-life issues were the priority. Still, he’s wary of politicians’ promises and their flip-flopping. Martha McSally, Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump — none has managed to earn his faith.
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