Originally Published: The Blade By Liz Skalka    Email Operation Grant for Ohio: rise@operationgrant.org

It’s OK to vote for Joe Biden if you’re a conservative-leaning Republican who wants a change from Donald Trump.

That’s the message that “Operation Grant,” the Ohio-focused collaboration between two national anti-Trump organizations, brought to Toledo and its swingy suburbs less than a month from Election Day.

Named for Ohio-born President Ulysses S. Grant, a Civil War general who led the nation during the Reconstruction era, Operation Grant is a partnership between Republican Voters Against Trump and the Lincoln Project. The latter was founded with John Weaver, a former advisor to former Gov. John Kasich and a prominent Never Trumper, who endorsed Mr. Biden at the Democratic convention.

Operation Grant is focused primarily on grassroots organizing in Ohio, tapping several former GOP leaders as the vessel for its message, which comes down to bucking labels and voting Democrat at the top of the ticket. But it ultimately focuses more on the anti-Trump versus pro-Biden part of the equation.

Phil Heimlich, a former Cincinnati City Council member, said he’s asking fellow Republicans to vote for Mr. Biden because of the President’s continuous lying, his cozy relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and his reported remarks denigrating Americans who died in war.

Mr. Heimlich wants on-the-fence Ohio Republicans “to put country over party, to be patriots and not partisans. We ask our fellow Republicans to restore decency and integrity to this country by voting for Joe Biden.”

Sarah Moser, a 40-year-old mother of three and farmer from Van Wert County, who said she supports the police and gun ownership, also said labels don’t matter in 2020.

“When I look at the two candidates, one represents me, one stands for what I believe in. One treats people the way I was taught to treat others … he doesn’t give you a demeaning nickname or bully you if you disagree with him,” she said. “And then you’ve got the other guy, who was handed everything he has. He’s not middle class, not even close. He spends hours golfing, mocking, fighting, bullying and judging.”

Chris Gibbs, a Shelby County farmer who once led the local Republican Party, said while Ohioans are performing their civic duty to vote beginning this week, Mr. Trump has yet to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election.

“At the same time that voters are exhibiting personal responsibility at their kitchen table or their voting booth, the President of the United States … refused to concede to one of our most cherished norms of the United States,” he said.

On Thursday, Mr. Trump said he wouldn’t participate in a virtual presidential debate with Mr. Biden after organizers announced the next debate would be held virtually due to coronavirus safety concerns. The President tested positive for the virus three days after the first presidential debate in Cleveland.

Asked about Operation Grant, Ohio Republican Party spokesman Evan Machan said, “No one cares about these former Republicans. Ohio stands firmly behind President Trump.”

There are signs, however, that Ohio is slipping from Mr. Trump’s grip after a commanding win in 2016. Polls are showing a toss-up race as Election Day nears.

Operation Grant’s message, delivered Thursday outside the downtown library, landed with at least one voter.

“I think it was really informative for the simple fact that instead of just voting for your party, vote for you who think is right for the job,” said Robert Highsmith, a 55-year-old who happened to be sitting in the plaza during the news conference.

He plans to vote for “the lesser evil,” he said.

As a Vietnam veteran, Saxbe says he’s distressed to hear Trump’s reported comments calling American war dead “losers” and “suckers”.

“I think you saw in the debate a real distinction between two men, one who was a gentleman and the other who was a thug. It was embarrassing as an American to see our president conduct himself that way,” says Saxbe, who last October held a fundraiser for Biden – long before he won the Democratic Party’s nomination for president.

“[Biden] needs to not lose Ohio’s rural and small-town areas by as much as [Hillary] Clinton did,” says Kondik. “For all of the talk of Black turnout and suburban erosion, there are still a lot of Ohio voters who live in small towns and rural areas. Trump crushed Clinton in these places, and Biden has to make up ground to win the state overall.”

Pandemic-enforced measures have resulted in election rallies and gatherings being restricted across the country, affecting Biden’s campaign in particular, although Trump’s own Covid-19 diagnosis has stalled his campaign events too.

As a consequence, last Tuesday’s chaotic and intemperate presidential debate may turn out to be one of the few occasions that voters will have had a chance to weigh up the candidates against each other.

For Montgomery County Republicans such as Margaret Wilkes, Trump “was himself” during the raucous debate. “I think he scored some good points,” she says. “I think for [Biden] to stand there and refuse to say, ‘I am for law and order’ is very disturbing.”

Centred on the city of Dayton and its sprawling, overwhelmingly white suburbs, Montgomery County is crucial to both Trump and Biden taking Ohio. A plurality of voters backed Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 before pivoting to Trump in 2016, who defeated Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton here by less than one per cent.

Wilkes says that the United States was better off until the pandemic set in, but she’s confident things will improve. “We are resilient, we are Americans,” she says. “We will make it.”

Email Operation Grant for Ohio: rise@operationgrant.org