SIDNEY — Not even Donald Trump can screw up his chances in western Ohio.
The 14-county swath of conservative farmers and blue-collar laborers, many of them Catholics of German descent, long has been the most reliably Republican region of bellwether Ohio.
But a key question of the 2016 battle for Ohio revolves around whether such traditional Republicans will turn out for someone like Trump.
It has indeed been different this time around. There’s some balking — some atypical asterisks and adjectives. Most western Ohio residents are more Ronald Reagan than Trump types.
Put off by his untamed tongue and boisterous shtick, some Republicans are late arrivals to the cause and candidacy of Trump.
But it appears they’re largely arriving, nonetheless. The prospect of Hillary Clinton, another four years of a Democrat in the White House, is unthinkable amid grousing about corruption and liberalism.
Auglaize County Republican Chairman Wayne York is amazed by the apparent turnaround.
“Things almost were in pieces this summer,” he said. “Since Labor Day, I’m surprised to see locally how things have coalesced behind Trump.”
At The Spot diner in downtown Sidney, where George W. Bush dropped by for a burger and pie in 2004, retired contractor Max Cotterman, 67, and his wife, Vickie, 65, are dining on the same.
This election has left the lifetime Republicans, who supported Gov. John Kasich over Trump in the Ohio primary, divided. Mrs. Cotterman plans to write in Kasich’s name on Nov. 8, considering Trump “a loose cannon and not a real Republican.”
Her husband shakes his head. “She’s throwing her vote away. ... I’m going with Donald. He shoots too much from the hip, but he’s the Republican.”
Construction-company owner Chris Gillespie, 46, is eating with three members of his crew. He’s a Trump man. He likes Trump’s defense of Second Amendment rights and gun ownership.
Chuck Diamond, 65, a manufacturing supervisor, is pained by the choices of Trump and Clinton. “I think Trump is almost like a fifth-grade bully in his mannerisms ... I may not even vote. It’s very disturbing to me.”
Republican candidates rarely cause such consternation among the party faithful of western Ohio.
From the founding of the Republican Party in 1856, 12 of the 14 counties never have failed to cast a majority of their votes for the GOP presidential candidate, often by nearly 2-to-1 ratios.
From 1976 through 2012, the area cast an average of 60 percent of its presidential votes for Republicans, and only 25 percent for Democrats, according to ohioelectionresults.com. Western Ohio makes up 12 percent of the statewide vote.
“These are good people. They just believe in the principles and values that made our country great to begin with,” said conservative firebrand U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, who represents four of the region’s counties and part of a fifth.
“They believe in strong families, they believe in hard work, they believe in limited government ... they want to keep government out of their lives and run their own communities, schools and families,” Jordan said.
New Bremen manufacturer Jim Dicke II, a major GOP donor, Kasich supporter and Republican National Committee member, said “it’s remarkable how Trump has bounced back” in Dicke’s backyard.
Dicke said that when he spoke to the local Rotary Club six months ago, not a hand went up when he asked who supported Trump. When he returned recently, 37 hands went up (versus three for Clinton). He foresees a close election in Ohio, but he thinks Trump still faces a tall task in winning the needed electoral votes nationally.
The lone Democrat stronghold in western Ohio is Montgomery County (Dayton). Even the margins it delivers the party’s presidential nominees typically are smaller than those of other urban centers in Ohio.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm, there is confidence we will carry for Hillary in the county. But it won’t be a blowout,” said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, a Democrat. She fields daily calls from longtime Republicans, generally women. “They’re voting for Hillary just because they can’t stomach the insanity that is that (Trump) campaign.”
Shelby County Republican Chairwoman Julie Ehemann, also a county commissioner, said any voter hesitation about Trump is offset by “a whole new set of people who never have been politically active before. He’s struck a chord.”
At Track Side Treats in Anna, a community where 2,000 workers build Honda engines, a spot check of diners finds seven Trump supporters of varying enthusiasm — and one holdout for Libertarian Gary Johnson.
Jessica Lemley, 27, an emergency medical technician, is all-in. “Trump doesn’t hide things. He’s very blunt and honest. We need change in America. We don’t need a politician,” she said.
Midway between Anna and Botkins sits the Inn Between. Trucking-company owner Herman McBride, 63, of Jackson Center, is enjoying what is perennially chosen the best fried chicken in Shelby County. He plans to vote for what he sees as a more-business-friendly Trump to protect a company he has grown from three trucks to 64 big rigs and 85 employees.
“We need somebody who is going to tell the truth in Washington,” McBride says. “People are playing stupid; they’re not asking questions and not using common sense about what is going on in D.C.”
Farther north, in Wapakoneta, the seat of Auglaize County, a window-front table at Cloud Nine Cafe hosts a discussion among longtime friends — and Republicans.
Eighty-year-old Dick Dean, a former Columbus resident and retired Nationwide IT employee, liked Ike when casting his first vote for president, in 1956. He hasn’t missed Election Day since — until this year.
“I’m not going to vote for Trump and not for a Democrat, so there’s your picture. Trump is not suitable for the presidency. He’s just not informed about the world.”
His wife, Christine, 72, seems almost pained say it: “I wish I could not vote this time. I’m probably leaning toward Hillary.”
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