If the Democrats succeed in breaking through in the U.S. midterm elections Tuesday, it will have a lot to do with women like Callie Rennison.
The Colorado university professor has always voted, but the jarring sight of Donald Trump in the White House in 2016 forced her to confront what she called a difficult reality: the United States was not the country she thought it was, and she was determined to change it.
"It is not an understatement that I was devastated that on average, the country I love continues to view women as second-class citizens," Rennison said in an email as she described her transformation into a political activist — donating to Democrats, canvassing for candidates and encouraging women to run for office.
"Until women have at least 50 per cent of the power in this nation, we will not be treated as equals. As I've told others, 'Living good quietly is no longer enough'."
As Americans head to the polls Tuesday for congressional and state elections at the midpoint of Trump's first term as president, there are women at the other end of the spectrum, too — and they are also poised to play a key role, even if they might not be as willing to talk about it.
"I really appreciate what Trump has done. He is so different; he really doesn't come into a box," Barbara, a 72-year-old born-and-raised Virginia mother who supported the president in 2016, said Monday as she paused outside a suburban Richmond shopping plaza.
For Barbara — "I'm not going to tell you my last name," she insisted — the president's hardline rhetoric on immigration absolves him of a multitude of sins, including some of his most jarring remarks about women.
"There are a lot of things I don't like, but I am strongly in favour of not letting people cross our borders. That's why he's our president — that's his No. 1 job, is to not let people into the United States."
It's the media, she added, that has stirred up anger and resentment in the American electorate. That, and the president's penchant for saying things that make headlines.
"I don't think he has been given enough credit for all of the good things that he has done; he has done a lot of good things. If he could keep his mouth shut, that would be an asset," she said. "We have a lot of media that they only report the bad, and that keeps everybody and the pot stirred up."
Polls suggest Democrats are poised to retake control of the House of Representatives, where they need to gain 23 seats to form a majority. In the Senate, where terms are six years compared to just two in the House, fewer seats are up for grabs, and those that are make a flip there less likely.
Outside a nearby yoga studio where suburban moms were gathering for a workout, another name came up: Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, whose confirmation hearings were marked by allegations of high-school sexual assault that Republicans have dismissed as a Democratic smear job.
"I used to be a moderate fiscal conservative and a social moderate, but I didn't like the way the whole Kavanaugh thing went down — I thought it was dirty," said one woman, a yoga mat slung over her shoulder, as she rushed to her class. "I did not like the way the confirmation hearings went, and for that reason I feel like I have to support the Republican party."
That's a sentiment that leaves Rachel Sklar, a Canadian expatriate lawyer and author living in Manhattan who dedicates her time to advancing feminist political causes, with a sick feeling in her stomach — a sensation that much like the one she felt as the results of the presidential election were trickling in two years ago.
"Women know that there's a huge double standard already in how they can behave professionally and how men can; that was fully on display during those hearings," said Sklar, a social-media dynamo and co-founder of TheLi.st, a popular online networking platform for professional women.
"I don't know what to say about women who are sympathetic to Kavanaugh. Probably, if they are sympathetic to Kavanaugh, they have internalized a lot of messages about what men are entitled to, and what women are not entitled to."
A CNN poll out Monday suggests that among female respondents, 62 per cent favour the Democrats in their districts, compared to just 35 per cent for the Republicans. And Trump's approval rating is hovering at or below 40 per cent, the lowest of any president on the eve of his first midterms since the 1950s.
But when it comes to predicting electoral outcomes in the United States in 2018, women know all too well there are more questions than answers until all the votes are counted.
"You hope people are going to come down on the side of doing something about climate change, protecting the Affordable Care Act, fighting for voting rights, respecting women — these are all really pivotal areas, but who knows?" Sklar wondered aloud. "We all lived through 2016, so this is why we're all on the edge of our seats, biting our nails."
There's a larger reality to confront after Tuesday, regardless of the result, added Rennison, from Colorado.
"One day Trump will be gone, but all those who were OK with his bigoted and misogynistic statements will still be here, and they are an even bigger problem."