When Linda Garrett-Johnson woke up on Election Day, she said a prayer: Not that her candidate, Joe Biden, would win, but that no matter the result, our fractured country be healed.
"My biggest fear is that, depending how the election goes, we don't get to a place of healing," said the 62-year-old business consultant and grandmother of eight from Apple Valley who is also a candidate for the Apple Valley City Council. "It's like we opened up a Pandora's box of hate, and my biggest fear is we can't put hate back in the box."
A few hours later and 4 miles away, in the same south suburban city of 55,000, Amanda Garcia, a 40-year-old small-business owner and mother of two, cast her vote to re-elect President Donald Trump. She raised a Trump flag through her vehicle's sunroof as she drove away from her polling place, knowing life will go on regardless of who wins.
"We've got to get along with our neighbors. ... Our life does not hang on who is the president," she said. "I think it has a lot to do with respect."
In an election where some pundits have claimed that suburban women would be the key to unlocking victory, Garcia and Garrett-Johnson anxiously awaited results Tuesday night in a Twin Cities suburb that stood on the edge of a blue-red divide four years ago. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton captured metro areas while Republican nominee Trump claimed rural and small-town America.
Though the Apple Valley women each denounced the hatred espoused in the divisiveness of 2020, their candidates' visions for the future remained starkly different. Garrett-Johnson saw Biden as a centrist voice who could bring a return to decency. Garcia saw Trump as the ultimate businessman who could get things done and deliver a prosperous economy that would help everyone.
Flying the flag
As Garcia drove to cast her ballot earlier in the day Tuesday, Trump flag billowing in the sunlight atop her SUV, a couple walking on the sidewalk gave her a thumbs-up. Cars honked in support.
Media often highlights fanatics, she said, but many Trump supporters are just real people like her.
Hailing from a Christian family active in the Republican Party, Garcia, who owns a printing business, became a fan of Trump years before he entered politics.
In high school, "The Apprentice" was her favorite show, she said. Four years ago, she met her future husband at a destination wedding where they discovered they were both reading "The Art of the Deal."
She liked Trump's no-nonsense approach to business.
"He didn't want to deal with any drama, he just wanted to get stuff done," she said. She believes it carries over well in Washington, where she says too many elected officials settle into playing politics.
While she knows people call Trump brash and unpresidential, "putting all that aside, he is smart when it comes to running business," she said. "He has hired all genders, all colors, all backgrounds. He cares most that they're just really smart, proven. ... Though he says very brash things in the moment, his actions prove otherwise."
Running her own race
At 11 a.m., Garrett-Johnson showed up on a busy suburban street corner with two signs: one for herself in her City Council race, and one for Biden. Garrett-Johnson has never considered herself a strict partisan; her support for Biden is more a matter of character. She dislikes Trump's divisiveness; she abhorred how his administration separated immigrant families from their children. "I voted to restore a sense of normalcy to our country," she said.
A white Jeep with a giant Trump flag kept circling every few minutes, honking. Some drivers gave her a thumbs-up, some a thumbs-down. One middle-aged man sat at a stoplight and gave Garrett-Johnson two middle fingers for several minutes. "Disgusting!" he shouted at her. She laughed: "So long as he doesn't shoot me, I'll be OK."
She was anxious about the evening's presidential results, sure. But she was more anxious about after the election. A bit before 6 p.m., Garrett-Johnson hopped on Facebook Live in her living room and reminded people to be an example of love and unity, no matter the election result: "There's going to be a loser in every election," she said. "What's really important is how we treat each other after."
She drove to a neighbor's house, where campaign staffers were hosting a party for her. Children and grandchildren joined. The television was tuned to MSNBC. Polls were closing in North Carolina and Ohio. "I'm nervous," she said — about her own election, and about the presidential race.
Hoping for civility
Either way, the sun would come up tomorrow. And she needed to show grace to supporters of both candidates. But the divisiveness of the country, Garrett-Johnson knew, would not make that easy. She would pray about it. A bit after 9 p.m., with the presidential election still up in the air, she headed home to watch election returns in bed with her dog, Foxy. She didn't expect a winner that night, or even the next day because of absentee ballots.
"I'd be fine with that," she said with a yawn.
At Garcia's house, a small group gathered in front of the TV, tuned to Fox News, tacos in hand.
"It's exciting," she said as polls started to close around the country, still a long time away from knowing a presidential winner.
She was happy to hang out with family and friends.
"Being nervous and worrying is not good for your health," she said after cuddling her 8-month-old son. "It's not going to change anything. Whatever happens, happens."
Wearing a red "United We Stand" T-shirt, Garcia stepped into a quiet room for a few minutes when her sister-in-law, in her early 20s, called from Nevada asking for advice because she was voting for the first time.
Garcia walked her through what she could expect at her polling place, she said, unsure who the young woman would vote for.
"I told her, 'you will appreciate this when you get older. It's part of being an American citizen. If you don't go vote, you don't have any right to complain about anything,' " Garcia told a friend, and they laughed.
Later, as the long night of slow results trickled in, she consulted a paper map of electoral votes that her sister held. When Fox News called Arizona for Biden, the room fell silent.
Still so far to go, and the race seemed to grow tighter.
Garcia yawned and took a seat after putting her children to bed.
Whatever the outcome, she said, she'll still treat people across the aisle with respect: "That's not going to change."
Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102
Reid Forgrave • 612-673-4647