Originally Published: Columbus Dispatch by Anna Staver astaver@dispatch.com

Christopher Gibbs voted for President Donald Trump in 2016, but the former chair of the Shelby County Republican Party says he won’t back the president this November.

Gibbs and five other GOP men laid out their plans Thursday to support former Vice President Joe Biden by creating a group called Operation Grant that plans voter outreach, media events and partnerships with national anti-Trump Republican groups such as the Lincoln Project.

Each man had his specific reason for backing Biden, ranging from agricultural policy to the president’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ohio Republican Party saw it as sour grapes.

“No one cares about these former Republicans,” GOP spokesman Evan Machan said. “Ohio stands firmly behind President Trump.”

The Trump Ohio campaign declined to comment.

Gibbs is no longer a registered Republican. He’s an unaffiliated voter who considered a run for the U.S. House as an independent against one of Trump’s most vocal supporters, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana.

Gibbs, a grain and cattle farmer, said his decision to abandon Trump came down to the president’s agricultural policies and trade wars, which Gibbs contends have closed foreign markets, drastically lowered prices and forced farmers to “become a ward of the state under the Trump administration.”

For retired Army Maj. Gen. Dennis Laich, the decision to support Biden centered on the president’s embrace of leaders such as North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Trump’s reported comments that Americans who died in service to their country were “losers” and “suckers.”

Top administration officials have said they never heard Trump make such remarks.

Ohio has long been more than a battleground state for presidential candidates. The Buckeye State has been known as a “must win” for those hoping to call the White House home. But Trump’s 8-percentage-point victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016 left many political observers wondering whether those days were over.

“That isn’t the gap now,” said former Hamilton County Commissioner Phil Heimlich. “We’re only talking about a small number of voters who have to change to be able to elect Joe Biden.”

And that’s where Operation Grant will focus. The organization plans to reach out to “reasonable Republicans,” center-right voters and right-leaning unaffiliated voters in the hopes of convincing them that voting for Biden is the “the patriotic thing to do.”

“We believe that relatively small number, that small percentage, can make the difference,” Heimlich said.

Perhaps the best-known Ohio Republican opposing Trump, former Gov. John Kasich, wasn’t at the press conference but has close ties with the Lincoln Project, which includes his top political adviser.

To email Operation Grant for Ohio rise@operationgrant.org