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For Trump, support from white women voters proved critical

Barbara Lodise was exactly the kind of voter Democrats thought would lift Hillary Clinton to a historic win Tuesday: a white wife and mother in the suburbs, a professional with two degrees - and a Republican.

Barbara Lodise was exactly the kind of voter Democrats thought would lift Hillary Clinton to a historic win Tuesday: a white wife and mother in the suburbs, a professional with two degrees - and a Republican.

In a campaign where Donald Trump drew scorn for having called women slobs, unattractive, and dumb, the thinking went that even party faithfuls like Lodise would abandon the GOP nominee and rally behind the first female with a realistic chance to be president, one painting herself as an advocate for women and children.

What they didn't consider was that the 55-year-old Langhorne voter's distaste for Clinton was born long before questions about her emails, Benghazi and her Wall Street speaking fees. It dated to 1998, Lodise said, when President Bill Clinton "lied to every single American" about his affair with a White House intern.

"She didn't have anything to say as first lady about his lying," Lodise said Thursday. "She seemed to have no problem with it."

So Lodise, convinced that Hillary Clinton lies daily and would do anything to get ahead, cast a ballot for Trump - contradicting the polls and pundits that had predicted otherwise.

They missed that across the region and nation, a different school of thought was permeating among a large swath of white women voters: Clinton - not Trump - was the more seriously flawed candidate.

Exit polls from Tuesday's election show Clinton won a larger overall share of the overall female vote, and trounced the Republican among black and Latino females. But Trump captured notably more support from white women across the nation and region.

According to a CNN survey, the GOP candidate won 53 percent of white female voters to Clinton's 43 percent share. Regionally, the trend was the same: In battleground Pennsylvania, Trump won among white women by a three-percentage-point margin and, with a narrow victory, became the first Republican presidential nominee in three decades to capture the state.

In New Jersey, which he lost overall, he topped Clinton by five points among white women.

She earned more votes from white women with college degrees, CNN exit poll data showed. But Trump scored the votes of nearly two-thirds of white women without university degrees.

Pundits said the results should not have been that surprising. White women typically trend more conservative and vote Republican, said Kelly Dittmar, a political scientist at Rutgers-Camden. Even when President Obama turned out record numbers in 2008, more white women voted for his GOP opponent, Sen. John McCain.

"What this election did demonstrate," she said, "is that party identification is quite strong."

But this was no ordinary election. Nor were the candidates ordinary. Democrats hoped to win over female voters with a candidate who could shatter the hardest glass ceiling, and thought they would reject Trump's controversial comments about women. It didn't happen.

In interviews this week, more than a half-dozen white women who voted for Trump in Pennsylvania and South Jersey said they had been ready for a female president - but that was not enough to win their ballots.

Votes should be based on merit, not gender, they said. Each said America had deteriorated into a country that no longer has security, safety, or jobs.

Nearly all are Republican. But they said they believed Washington needed someone fresh with new ideas, and Clinton stood for everything wrong with America today: traditional, beholden to special interests, unwilling to shake things up.

More than anything, they said, they hate a liar.

"It's the lies, the classified information in [Clinton's] email," that turned 56-year-old Debbie Laypo of Bucks County away from the Democratic candidate. Before Tuesday, she had always been an independent voter, she said, evaluating each election by the person running.

"I would love to see" a woman president, Laypo said Thursday. "But honestly, I don't think Hillary should have been running for president with everything against her - all of the rules she's broken."

Like some, 67-year-old Wendy Neininger, a Trump campaign volunteer and public relations professional from Newtown Square, said she was offended by his comments about women - but not enough to stop her from voting Trump.

Women "can handle those things," Neininger said. "We are strong, we work hard, we are educated, and we find those comments offensive.

"But that's not a substantive issue when you are trying to figure out how to pay your bills, how you feed your kids, how you pay down a $20 trillion debt," she continued. "How you put people to work, how you secure the border - those are the issues we care about."

Some proudly talked of their support for Trump. Others were more timid, asking not to be publicly identified for fear of professional or social backlash.

According to the University of Southern California/Los Angeles Times Daybreak tracking poll - one of the few that consistently showed Trump leading among likely voters - his supporters were less comfortable than Clinton backers in telling pollsters who would get their vote. Republican media consultant John Brabender, who has Pittsburgh roots, called this the "cocktail party test."

To win Pennsylvania, he said, Trump needed educated, moderate voters, particularly women, to feel comfortable telling friends they were going to vote for him. "I don't think he fully passed the test, but he improved," Brabender said Friday.

Real estate attorney Lori Greenberg of Cherry Hill said she knew others who feared repercussions from openly supporting Trump, suggesting that pollsters and Democrats underestimated Trump's voting base.

"What I'm really mad about is they said the people who like Trump are all uneducated white people," Greenberg said.

She said she understood the knocks against the Republican nominee.

"Do I like the fact that he was divorced multiple times? No. Do I like what he said? No," Greenberg said. "They were pretty piggish comments."

But Clinton, she said, "just seems a whole lot dirtier."

Carolyn Bunny Welsh was a diehard Trump fan from the start. Welsh, the 72-year-old Chester County sheriff, traveled to Cleveland to be a Republican National Convention delegate and throughout the state to support him.

And when her 94-year-old mother was dying in a hospital last month, Welsh fulfilled the woman's two final requests: She moved her back into her Upper Darby home, and she helped her cast an absentee ballot for Trump.

Welsh had volunteered for Mitt Romney in 2012, but there was something special about this year's nominee, she said.

"The energy and the enthusiasm for Mr. Trump was something I have never seen before," she said. "It was truly a movement."

It easily outweighed the notion that Clinton deserved her vote because she was a woman.

"I would love to see a woman president," Welsh said. "I just didn't want to see that woman president."

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Staff writers Thomas Fitzgerald and Michaelle Bond contributed to this article.