Mike Pence Rallies Ohio's Amish Community to Tip Balance for Republicans

Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Ohio on Wednesday to support Ohio's Republican candidates, making a stop in Mansfield to campaign for gubernatorial candidate Mike DeWine, Senate candidate Jim Renacci, and Congressmen Bob Gibbs and Troy Balderson. Along the way, the vice president carved out time to meet with the Amish community, many of whom attended the rally in Mansfield.

Renacci, who is currently a member of the U.S. House, told PJM that his team has been working with the Amish community for several years and he, along with Bikers for Trump leader Chris Cox, arranged for a meet and greet with the vice president.

The Amish aren't typically a sought-after voting bloc. After all, many have religious objections to voting and contacting them by phone is nearly impossible. However, some believe that the Amish may have helped to nudge George W. Bush over the finish line in the 2004 election. Bush's socially conservative platform resonated with the Amish and he devoted significant time and resources to those communities.

Ben Walters, who heads Amish PAC, a group dedicated to turning out the Amish vote, told PJM that tracking precise Amish voting statistics is difficult. But he explained that the Amish are a fast-growing population. "The eligible voting population has doubled since the 2004 presidential election. Most experts we talk to agree that about 9 in 10 Amish voters are Republicans," he said.

Renacci told PJM that members of the community visited his office when they had an issue with Social Security. The Amish are not required to pay Social Security or Medicare taxes, nor do they draw benefits from those programs.

"They do have concerns about policies," Renacci explained. "Their religion does not really want them to get involved in politics, but policies drive them." He said they tell him they are concerned about issues like gay marriage, abortion, transgender bathrooms, and "being able to continue the lifestyle they live." They worry that the government may become so liberal that they lose their rights, he said.

Incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown "does not fit in the direction of the policies" that the Amish care about, Renacci said, emphasizing that they vote based on policies rather than their affection for individual politicians. "My message has been that there's always been a potential attack on their religious liberties and to make sure they are engaged in voting and protecting their rights."

"I tell them I'm a supporter of religious freedoms and I'm pro-life and I don't support partial birth abortion like Sherrod Brown does," he said.

Renacci has been in an uphill battle since entering the Senate race late in the game after deciding to bow out of the race for governor. The RCP average has the race at +13.5 in Brown's favor and FiveThirtyEight gives Renacci only a 1 in 30 chance of winning. Polls and prognosticators, however, can be wrong, as we learned in the 2016 presidential election, so Renacci continues to campaign relentlessly.

Kyle C. Kopko, associate professor of political science at Elizabethtown College, downplayed the influence of the Amish vote at The Conversation in 2016. "In a study of Amish voting, my colleague Donald Kraybill and I found that in the months leading up to the 2004 presidential election, voter registration among Amish people in Lancaster County [Pennsylvania] increased by a whopping 169 percent. Of the 10,350 Amish adults in Lancaster County, 21 percent registered to vote by Election Day," he wrote.

However, Kopko says, the registrations didn't necessarily translate into votes for Bush. "Of the 2,134 registered Amish voters in Lancaster County," he wrote, "63 percent turned out to vote on Election Day." He explained that "even assuming that all 1,342 Amish voters supported Bush, that wasn’t nearly enough to swing Pennsylvania. John Kerry won the state by more than 144,000 votes." But in a tight election, 1000+ votes could be enough to tip an election to one candidate or another.

Amish PAC and candidates like Renacci are working tirelessly to turn out the vote. "We have our billboards up in the two Ohio counties with the heaviest Amish populations: Wayne & Holmes," Walters said. "We'll also be active again in Pennsylvania (like 2016) and Indiana."

Billboard encouraging Amish to vote (Image credit: Amish PAC)

Could the Amish communities in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania give Republicans a boost in the 2018 midterms? It's possible, but perhaps not likely. Social issues have been largely banished from the 2018 election cycle, and most candidates have made a conscious effort to turn their attention elsewhere. Issues like immigration, voting rights, and the state's economy are generally low on the Amish priority list. Even so, one should never underestimate the power of good old-fashioned grassroots campaigning. Pence has a national reputation as a socially conservative firebrand who shares many of the values of the Amish community, so that may play a role in their decision about whether or not to vote for the Republican ticket, as may the attention the Republicans have paid to their community.