In 2020, the Suburbs Are Confused
Children frolic in playgrounds and bike through tree-lined streets. The backyards are big enough for barbecues with the neighbors and the public schools are of high quality. In the suburbs, life is typically slower and gentler, away from the turmoil of dense urban areas.
In 2020, however, politics disrupted this sense of calm. The suburbs are changing both in their racial and political composition. The lawns are full of campaign signs so there’s no doubt where the presidential contest residents stand.
As I traveled hundreds of miles in suburbs on the battlefields of the Midwestern Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and western Pennsylvania, I saw this transformation clearly.
Supporters of President Trump have adorned their homes with banners and flags as if they were decorating for Halloween or Christmas. The minor signs for Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic candidate, are more of a period than an exclamation mark for his supporters’ determination to turn the tide in November.
In Lakeville, about 25 miles south of Minneapolis, local Democrats set up a pop-up shop to distribute campaign signs. Lorraine Rovig, 72, drove an hour there and back from her home in Northfield because she couldn’t wait for the mobile sales point to come to her.
Ms. Rovig, a former Republican, woke up at 5 a.m. every day to get to a busy street corner in time for rush hour and wave her Biden sign. There, said Ms. Rovig, she would withstand an onslaught of insults from passing cars.
“I don’t remember that malice in other elections,” she said. “I thought what can I do? I can encourage people and let them know that they are not alone. The quiet Democrats are out here too. “
Rev. J. Michael Byron held a socially distant mass for about 90 parishioners in late September. He asked her to pray for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had died just days earlier, for people with the coronavirus and for those celebrating the Jewish New Year.
Nobody mentioned the big event coming up in November: the election. Although the members of the ward are politically diverse, Father Byron said they all gather around a common value of justice and service to the wider community, especially the poor.
Patrick Kelly, 53, a real estate agent, hosted a birthday party for his 2-year-old granddaughter in the large back yard of his home in Fridley, 10 miles north of downtown Minneapolis. The city was rocked by protests against racial justice this summer after George Floyd, a black man, was killed in police custody.
While Mr Kelly voted for Mr Trump in 2016, his adult children remained dedicated Democrats. However, this changed with the riots in the summer.
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“It feels like we’re being forced to choose between the lesser of two evils,” said Kelly. He will vote for Mr. Trump again and will be accompanied by his children this year.
Gaining 10 votes in Wisconsin has been a Democratic priority since Mr Trump’s narrow victory in 2016. Speaking outside the Ozaukee Democrats office, 58-year-old James Quick said that the people who voted in those elections are now excited about the anti-Trump sentiment. However, the Milwaukee suburbs remain split between Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden.
Brad Disbrow, a registered independent who lives in Belgium, about 60 km north of Milwaukee, said he didn’t like Mr. Trump but saw no choice but to support the president.
Mr Disbrow, 53, said refusing abortion was a top priority for him and his wife. “We couldn’t have children, so we adopted,” he said. “We went to Russia to get them. We have a deep feeling when it comes to unborn babies – it’s a very personal problem. “
Carolyn Bomkamp, 33, updated her voter registration at a booth operated by students at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in Somers on the outskirts of Kenosha. She suspects both candidates and doesn’t find either impressive, she said, adding that she will likely decide in the voting booth.
“It’s about who, in my opinion, will pull off a third of the things you said,” said Ms. Bomkamp.
Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly, a Republican, has become more open about his views. He didn’t vote for Mr. Trump in 2016, he said, and neither this time. He said a billboard near Lake Mills that simply reads “ENOUGH” resonates with him.
“Enough Covid, enough inaction by our leaders, enough people not getting their jobless checks, enough Trump,” said Reilly.
About 50 miles north of Detroit, in White Lake, about 30 people gathered at Luanne Stencil’s waterfront home for a party organized by Women for Trump, a group promoting the re-election of the president. Most of the women wore patriotic colors. Nobody wore masks.
Oct. 28, 2020, 6:25 p.m. ET
They drank wine from plastic cups, nibbled on cheese and crackers, and listened to members’ comments as the sun set. The group has held over two dozen lunches and 32 wine and cheese parties.
Shortly after the 2016 election, Lori Goldman founded Fems for Dems, a nonprofit group for suburban women. The group has attracted nearly 9,000 members conquering neighborhoods in Novi, about 18 miles from White Lake. The area has been represented by both Republicans and Democrats in Congress for the past decade.
Most of the residents who opened their doors listened politely and some discussed the candidates. A man cut off a work call to chat with the women. The advertising was tough on Wendy Bolton’s feet, so she took off her shoes to make herself comfortable.
When Democrat Conor Lamb won a special election in 2018 to represent a district in the Pittsburgh area in Congress, his party saw the importance of support in the suburbs.
Rick Saccone, the Republican in this contest, remains a strong supporter of Mr. Trump; His home in western Pennsylvania is covered in evidence inside and out.
The lawn of Bobbi Bauer’s two-story brick home in Elizabeth Township, about 20 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, is adorned with rose bushes, small American flags, and a huge Trump banner that spans their white garage. She runs a daycare center at home and her clients have a mix of party affiliations.
“In the suburbs it feels like you know everyone and everyone knows you,” she said, “and that is important to me.”
Ms. Bauer, 72, explained that politics was a taboo subject in her youth. She wonders at the number of campaign signs in her neighborhood this year and even at her own boldness in displaying her politics in her garden.
On a Wednesday evening, members of the West Hills Women’s Democratic Organization, a group of party volunteers stationed about 40 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, gathered under a rented parking garage. Michele Knoll, a candidate for a state representative, spoke to the group in person, while a regional organizer of the Biden campaign spoke to them virtually.
The group worked until the only light in the area came from a laptop. “We’re trying to move forward and make sure we don’t repeat 2016,” said Debbie Turici (66). “It’s not just a choice. It’s about your values, your integrity. “
LaKeyshia Price, 44, moved to their parents’ home in New Kensington with her 14-year-old son LJ to save money. She says her relatives are so divided between Democrats and Republicans that they no longer talk about politics at all.
“We locked a lot of people in the house together and we choose our battles carefully,” she said. “We just want to make love, eat good food and have some rest.”