A campaign rally with Vice President Mike Pence in central Ohio on Wednesday included two unlikely voters, farmers Levi Miller and Ben Hostetler, who are part of a determined effort by Trump supporters and the Republican Party to get members of the conservative Amish and Mennonite communities to the polls.
Mr. Miller and Mr. Hostetler ordinarily drive horse-drawn buggies, but they got a ride for this event with a volunteer from the group Bikers for Trump, which has been working on outreach to the Amish in Ohio for about two years.
“The Amish are doing a lot under the radar,” Mr. Miller said of the community’s political activity. “There’s a lot of Amish who vote, although not near all of them do. We are concerned about our religion, our way of life, what our children and grandchildren are going to face.”
The untapped conservative constituency burst into view in the 2016 presidential election, when tens of thousands of Amish voters in Pennsylvania were credited with helping Donald Trump narrowly win the state, the first time a Republican carried Pennsylvania since 1988. One of those who noticed was Rep. James B. Renacci, Ohio Republican and a U.S. Senate candidate this year.
“There were over 30,000 Amish who voted for President Trump in Pennsylvania,” Mr. Renacci said. “If you look at Pennsylvania’s results in 2016, and you look at the number of Amish who are registered in Ohio to vote — and in many cases only get their information from local newspapers — it’s important that they get out to vote and know the issues that are important to them, the candidates. We’ve had multiple meetings with the Amish leadership as late as this week.”
Mr. Miller, a father of six, said Amish voters care about issues far more than they care about individual candidates.
“If you want to bring the Amish out, you’ve got to talk about abortion, you’ve got to talk about gay rights and tell them which side you are on,” he said in an interview. “That’s why I was here [at the rally] today.”
His friend, Mr. Hostetler, said he is concerned about same-sex marriage, abortion and “the bathroom agenda” — the push by the left to allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their gender preference rather than their biological sex.
“Those are the people we’ve got to watch out for,” he said. “Amish women won’t be able to defend themselves because they won’t be armed.”
“He’s always putting Christ ahead of himself. That’s what we’re looking for,” Mr. Hostetler said.
Bikers for Trump founder Chris Cox said he has been working on connecting with Amish and Mennonite voters in Ohio for about two years. He said part of the challenge is overcoming “a 300- or 400-year-old tradition of not being politically active.”
“We weren’t sure how well we’d be received here,” Mr. Cox said. “They almost exemplify the silent majority. They’re very private. They won’t ever put a yard sign in their yard. They’re much more likely to vote on state and local issues that are affecting their families directly. It’s kind of like a political science project.”
Another hurdle, he said, is that “traditionally it’s hard for an ‘Englishman’ to gain their trust and to talk to them.”
The Amish generally shun modern technologies such as automobiles, televisions and computers. They are opposed to government aid and intervention, a philosophy that sometimes translates into spotty voting records.
Mr. Miller said he didn’t start voting until about 10 years ago because he “didn’t see a big difference between Republicans and Democrats.”
“Now we see this big gap between the right and the left,” he said. “That’s probably why the Amish are waking up. If we’re going to have this liberalism, where we can do whatever feels good, that’s not good for our children. We don’t have to have it shoved under our nose.”
To appeal to Amish residents, Mr. Cox and his group began to distribute leaflets outlining the pro-choice record of Sen. Sherrod Brown, Ohio Democrat, who received a 100 percent rating last year from NARAL Pro-Choice America.
“Abortion was the big thing. That’s really gotten their attention,” Mr. Cox said. “I explained to them that they can do their part to dismantle this leadership that is coming out of Ohio. The Amish aren’t very likely to step out and get behind a man or a Democrat or a Republican. But as we’ve learned, they’re more than willing to come out and stand up against something like abortion, certainly late-term abortion.”
On Friday, Mr. Hostetler invited Mr. Cox to dinner at his house.
“It’s very unusual for the Amish to invite an ‘Englishman’ to their house for dinner,” Mr. Cox said. “That really showed me that we were getting traction and gaining their trust.”
Mr. Cox said Wayne and Holmes counties in central Ohio have the largest concentration of Amish in the U.S. and an estimated 74,000 Amish and Mennonite voters.
“We feel like we can bring out tens of thousands of Amish votes for Jim Renacci” on Election Day, he said.
It’s not clear whether Ohio’s Amish voters can make a difference in the Senate race. Mr. Renacci has been trailing Mr. Brown by double digits, although one poll this week showed the Republican only 6 percentage points behind the incumbent.
Mr. Renacci, who is pro-life, agreed that Amish voters are “a natural fit and an easy discussion” for him.
“They don’t like to get involved in politics, but they will talk about people and their values,” he said. “They do not vote for a person; they vote for the principles and the values. It’s a natural audience for many people who are pro-life and believe in religious freedom. I tell them all the time, I know they don’t want to be involved in government, but they do want to make sure that their issues are heard. They love this country, and they love the freedoms they have.”
Mr. Pence told the crowd that the conventional wisdom of midterms indicates it should be “a tough election” for Republicans.
“But I think you know what President Trump thinks of conventional wisdom,” he said to appreciative laughter.
The vice president told the audience, “If you’re inclined to bow the head and bend the knee, now’s a good time to do that, too. I think it’s a good time to pray for America.”
Mr. Pence said, “Every conversation in the next six days should start with, ‘Have you voted yet?’”
Mr. Hostetler said he won’t have any trouble getting to the polls in his rural farming community on Tuesday.
“The election booths are about a mile or two away from us,” he said. “Driving a horse and buggy three or four miles, that’s no problem.”
⦁ S.A. Miller contributed to this report.
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