In one sliver of one battleground state lives a cluster of conservative residents who don't follow Donald Trump on Twitter, won't tune into one of his raucous televised rallies or watch Wednesday’s presidential debate.
Several political operatives, however, argue that support from Amish people in Lancaster County, Pa., and other members of the religious community who live in neighboring Ohio could swing the presidential election to the Republican nominee next month.
That’s why Amish PAC, run by two strategists who have worked for groups aligned with Ben Carson and Newt Gingrich, is funding billboards and newspaper ads in this rural swath of southern Pennsylvania. A third, Ben King, who was raised Amish, serves as outreach director.
Ben Walters, the group’s fundraising manager, said the strategists started the PAC because other Republicans weren’t making an effort to reach the more than 100,000 Amish people who live in Pennsylvania and Ohio, presidential battlegrounds that also are home to competitive Senate races this year.
So far, the group has raised about $100,000, but Walters said they don’t need loads of cash. “Newspaper ads and billboards in the middle of farmland don’t cost very much,” he said.
Although the Amish voters they are trying to reach eschew much technology, Federal Election Commission records show that more than $8,000 from the PAC has a gone to a list-rental company in Virginia, owned by Walter's employer. Walters said the group uses the service to send out appeals to non-Amish supporters for money and volunteer help.
The PAC faces long odds. For starters, the RealClearPolitics average of recent Pennsylvania polls gives Democrat Hillary Clinton a lead in Pennsylvania. The race is closer in Ohio.
In addition, the Amish don’t vote in large numbers.
Voting is not prohibited among Amish communities in Lancaster, said Steven Nolt, a senior scholar at Elizabethtown College’s Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies. But he said voting is viewed as deeper participation with the secular world than preferred by the Amish, who live family and church-centered lives.
A rare grassroots push in the community to aid President George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004 saw just 13% turnout among eligible Amish voters. “I doubt this effort will turn out huge numbers,” Nolt said of the Amish PAC’s 2016 campaign.
Although the PAC’s advertising has described Trump as a “family businessman” who works with his children, Nolt said other aspects of Trump’s history, such as his divorces and his business bankruptcies, don’t sit well with the conservative community. For instance, bankruptcy “is viewed as an unethical shirking of your duties” and serves as grounds for ex-communication, he said.
The PAC’s organizers aren’t talking about Trump’s past in their Amish outreach but instead emphasize his commitment to cut regulations and appoint conservatives to his administration and the Supreme Court.
“They are not voting for a church bishop,” Walters said of the potential Trump supporters in Lancaster County. “They are voting for someone who would be good for their businesses and their farms.”