MASON, Ohio (AP) — James Stepp says he is an Ohio Republican who is supporting Democrat Hillary Clinton. His reason? A Trump presidency, he says, would damage the GOP for years to come.
"The party needs to jettison Donald Trump in order to survive," said Stepp, 29, of Franklin, in Warren County.
Voting for a Democrat in order to save the Republican Party is not a common thread of presidential campaigns, by any means. But this is no ordinary election, and many Republicans are finding reasons to back away from a nominee whose provocative rhetoric and treatment of women appall them.
Chasing those votes, the Clinton campaign has been working GOP-dominated suburban areas for months in Ohio, finding cracks in their usually rock-solid support for their party's presidential nominee and raising Clinton's hopes for blocking Trump in a must-win swing state for him.
"I think a couple weeks ago we would acknowledge that we faced some headwind," Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said of the state. Now? "Wind is at our backs in Ohio."
Polls have indicated the state looks like a toss-up.
The three counties around Cincinnati typically provide 2-to-1 margins and strong turnouts for the Republican nominees, and were credited with delivering the votes George W. Bush needed to clinch his 2004 re-election. In his book "The Bellwether," Ohio native Kyle Kondik, of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, describes Butler, Warren and Clermont as a Republican "super-county."
But Kondik thinks Warren in particular and Delaware County, a heavily Republican suburban area near Columbus, offer potential for Clinton among college-educated, affluent voters.
Trump's Ohio campaign director, Bob Paduchik, expresses confidence that Trump's support will hold up in traditional Republican regions while he outperforms typical Republican candidates in areas such as the Mahoning Valley region in northeast Ohio. Trump's tough talk on trade deals and immigration has appealed to blue-collar workers there, and in Ohio's southern Appalachian region, where Trump ran better than home-state Gov. John Kasich in the March primary.
But Trump's effort to pile up enough votes in a state Democrat Barack Obama won in 2012 gets tougher if Clinton siphons some from GOP strongholds.
Clinton's state campaign director, Chris Wyant, said he was already seeing more support this year than usual in the GOP-dominated suburbs, when the tape of Trump's 2005 comments about women drew attention just as early voting was beginning.
Out for a stroll on a recent pleasant afternoon in her neighborhood in Mason, Nasim Shafie was listening in disbelief on her phone to Trump's "terrible" comments about women on the tape.
Shafie, 36, said she didn't vote in the last election but is motivated to vote for Clinton.
"I don't want Trump," said Shafie, whose husband is a Trump supporter. "Many, many, many things are adding up."
A Clinton campaign volunteer canvassing the Warren County neighborhood of $350,000-plus homes gave her a voter registration form.
Clinton supporter Amy Rasmussen, taking a break from yard work at her Mason home, said that like her, many Republican neighbors are probably having awkward conversations with their young daughters about Trump and women. She said she expects most will still vote Republican, "but they're a lot quieter about it this time."
Karen Scipione Gray, used to being "the token Democrat" on her block in Mason, sees offbeat indicators: While her Obama yard signs frequently disappeared, no one has taken her Clinton sign. Even better, she said, her house, egged three times in 2012, had remained yolk-free this year.
Gray said she's trying to persuade some staunch Republican neighbors to vote for Clinton, but they tell her they just won't vote for president.
Trump campaigned in Butler County during the primary season and led a large rally this month in downtown Cincinnati. Running mate Mike Pence and Trump's adult children have also campaigned in the area. But he lacks the endorsement of the popular Republican governor as well as Sen. Rob Portman and has had strained relations with some other GOP leaders.
Obama and Bill Clinton both twice won Ohio, a state no Republican has reached the White House without.
In the GOP suburbs, Clinton has had prominent supporters such as actresses Kristin Davis and Amber Tamblyn making appearances for her. Meg Whitman, a Hewlett-Packard executive and longtime GOP fundraiser, recently campaigned for her in Cincinnati.
Warren County Republican Lori Viars, an anti-abortion activist, said she could "count on one hand" people she knows who say they won't vote for Trump in an area with many evangelical Christians. Like her, they are focusing on the next president's potential to fill the Supreme Court vacancy and other federal judgeships, and what that could mean for abortion law and religious expression.
"I absolutely do not approve of some of the things that Trump has said," Viars said. "But people are going to vote for him because the alternative could change our lives forever."
Dorothy Nicholas, 50, stopped by a Trump office in West Chester the other day to pick up yard signs.
"I think he can change America," said Nicholas, who said she lost her auto parts factory job when the work was moved to Mexico. "If we elect her, she's just going to continue this administration."
Down the road in Butler County, Victoria Alvarez had a Clinton sign up. She said strangers who saw her number on a sign for rental space above her art gallery called her to thank her for showing support for Clinton.
In the county represented by John Boehner when he was Republican House speaker, she said, "We're that glimmer of hope for Hillary."
In Mason, Scott Wertz had a Trump-Pence sign in his yard, along with one for his first choice, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whom Trump defeated in the primary. He said he doesn't really like Trump, "but he just happened to win."
Another sign in his yard says, "Hillary For Prison."
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