Jennifer Lietzke picks up toys in the playroom of her Cary home. One son is napping; the other is at school. That offers her a rare moment of relative quiet -- to reflects on politics.
“We try to keep drama out of the group,” said Lietzke, who administers the Facebook group called Apex/Cary moms. “We only have two rules: be nice and no advertising.”
Lietzke says the group has grown exponentially in the past year to more than 11,000 members. It’s a place, she says, where moms can share thoughts on pediatricians, house cleaners and sometimes even politicians.
“We try to not have it be specific support for or against a candidate,” she said. “As long as the moms can stay nice we let stuff go, but sometimes people forget they’re using their public Facebook accounts and it can get kind of ugly.”
Lietzke used to work in finance at Duke Medical Center. Today she’s a full-time mom – trying to navigate age-appropriate conversations about the presidential race with her four and one year olds. She said explaining the ‘Hillary for Prison’ sign in the neighbor’s yard posed a challenge earlier this year, and she admits she’s ready for this race to be over.
“Politics are one thing, but for me Trump is beyond conservatism,” she said. “I’m not some crazy Hillary supporter. Trump is just another level of – I don’t know if I have the right words for it. He’s a racist, he’s a misogynist, he’s a hate monger – and it just scares me for the future.”
North Carolina remain a heavily purple state
The last two presidential races in North Carolina have been among the closest in the country. Strategists and political scientists have been predicting for months that mothers, specifically those in suburban areas like Lietzke, could have a significant impact on election outcomes this year.
In 2008, Barack Obama won North Carolina by just 14,000 votes. Then, four years ago, Mitt Romney carried the state by 92,000 votes. In a state with 6.8 million registered voters, these are small margins, according to Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling.
“I think what’s 100 percent going to end up deciding the race in North Carolina is what ends up happening in the suburbs of Wake County and Mecklenburg County,” Jensen said earlier this year.
Since 2012, more than 240,000 voters have registered here, and Wake and Mecklenburg counties have seen the largest gains.
If there’s anything people can agree on during the final days of 2016’s tumultuous election cycle, it’s this – the results will almost certainly be close.
Discontent with both candidates
About 30 minutes south of Cary in Fuquay-Varina, Lain Valdes sits at her kitchen table. She’s a native of Miami, and visibly unhappy about both major party candidates.
“And If I get upset I’m sorry … It’s just annoying, it’s just frustrating – I’m not upset, like I’m not sad, but I’m angry. We shouldn’t have the two choices we have, when we had such a better choice,” she said on a recent day.
Fighting back tears, Valdes referenced Bernie Sanders. She and her husband donated $1,700 dollars to his campaign, and took both their sons to his rallies. She’s disgusted by Trump’s words, and thinks Clinton is an untrustworthy centrist who has put people’s lives in danger. Valdes wrote-in Green Party Candidate Jill Stein, during early voting.
"The thing that makes me probably the second angriest, after Hillary Clinton running for President, is the fact that they try to scare you – and they’ve brainwashed people into thinking you have to vote for A or B," Valdes said. "Like that’s your only choice - and that’s not your only choice."
WUNC put out a request to that 11,000-member Facebook group seeking a Trump supporting mom. No one agreed to an interview.
Meanwhile, Sarah O’Shea has already made up her mind. She lives in south Durham.
“I think it’s very hard as a woman to reconcile the things that have been said,” O’Shea said.
She said Trump’s objectification of women, including his own daughter, is disgusting. And she also said that in her opinion, Hillary’s experience in government makes her qualified to lead the country.
“I have a large sector of friends who typically fall middle of the road, who if this were a typical election would vote Republican,” she said. “Every other mother I know personally that I am close with is 100 percent for Hillary.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that write-in candidates are not allowed on North Carolina ballots. The current version is accurate.
Correction: Lain Valdes was originally identified as Lain Alvarez in a previous version of this story.