Repub­li­cans reach out to Amish, Men­non­ites in Ohio

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAVE BOYER

A cam­paign rally with Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence in cen­tral Ohio last 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.”

Mr. Hostetler said Mr. Trump is do­ing “a real good job” as pres­i­dent.

“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.”

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


The Amish com­mu­nity in cen­tral Ohio is a largely un­tapped con­ser­va­tive con­stituency.


Bik­ers for Trump founder Chris Cox said he has been work­ing on con­nect­ing with Amish and Men­non­ite vot­ers in Ohio for about two years.

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