Religious Ohioans warm to Romney
ST. CLAIRSVILLE, Ohio — The Rev. Homer Harden says he never mixes politics and the pulpit. This election cycle won't be any different.
“Billy Graham was one of my heroes, and he never told people who to vote for,” said Harden, pastor of First Presbyterian Church. “He encouraged people to vote, to educate themselves about the candidates and issues, but he wouldn't push one candidate or the other. I thought that was good advice.”
Yet Harden and his 167 church members will seek higher guidance before voting Nov. 6 for either President Obama or Republican candidate Mitt Romney.
“Before they get in that booth, they're going to stop and say a little prayer,” Harden said.
In this crucial swing state, many look to the revived auto industry or to Hamilton County's role as a bellwether, or to how the candidates' messages play with blue-collar workers in the state's northeast manufacturing hub.
Few people talk about the religious vote in places such as St. Clairsville in Belmont County, across the Ohio River from West Virginia.
Traditionally a Democratic stronghold, the county might vote for a Republican presidential candidate for the first time in 40 years, analysts and residents say.
“That area is definitely trending Republican,” said Paul Sracic, chairman of the political science department at Youngstown State University. “I think Obama is seen as sort of a radical, and that could be problematic with culturally conservative voters. They might be in the habit of voting Democrat, but they're more like Archie Bunker voters. He was in a union, but he had no use for those on the far left. Maybe that's what's going on in Belmont County.”
Romney's Mormon faith, which many people acknowledge they do not fully understand, appears to be a non-factor among supporters.
Jeff Vrotto, 39, who runs a small woodworking business, said “the Book of Mormon is kind of out there,” but not so far out that he'd vote for Obama.
“Obama hasn't done anything for us in four years,” Vrotto said. “I'm not voting for him, and I'm a Democrat. Taxes are too high under him. Romney has to win and repeal Obamacare.”
Sheila Smith, 59, who owns a home care agency, is another registered Democrat who will vote for Romney, albeit with reservations.
She backed former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and said she prefers his strict conservatism. Smith staunchly opposes abortion and gay marriage, and does not understand churchgoers who support either.
“Yes, there are religious people who will vote for Obama. I don't know if it's because they think it's OK to kill babies and allow gays and lesbians to get married, which is blatantly wrong,” Smith said. “There are people out there who go to church but basically do anything they want. Then there are people who walk the walk.
“We are Bible-believing Christians in this area, and we are very concerned about the Democratic push towards liberalism.”
Smith believes the Mormon faith is “a debauched religion,” but she considers Obama the most damaging president in American history.
“He tells people what they want to hear while sliding the knife into their backs,” she said. “He wants a complete transformation of the country from a republic over to Marxism. Bible-believing Christians understand this.
“I have children and grandchildren, and I'm scared to death for them.”
She is not alone.
Alisa Turnewitsch, like others here, erected a sign in her yard reading: “Stop the War on Coal. Fire Obama.”
Though it accurately expresses her disdain for the president, it's “not good enough,” she said. “I've been looking on eBay for a sticker that says, ‘America' so I can place it over the ‘coal' part because Obama's done much more damage than that. He's waging a war on America, not just coal.”
Turnewitsch thinks Obama is killing the American dream.
“He's taking away people's initiative. He wants to create sponges instead of hard-working Americans. He's transforming the country, and it's scary.”
On the opposite side of the spectrum is Bill Bryant, whose pro-Obama yard is a rarity in St. Clairsville.
“I wonder if Obama goes over people's heads,” said Bryant, 75. “That worries me. It's going to be close. I think we've got a horse race.”
After the first presidential debate, which most pundits said Romney won, Bryant thought Obama came off as the better candidate.
“He was cool and collected. He was presidential,” he said. “But the media punditry wanted blood, and they didn't get blood.”
Bryant said a strong local Tea Party is driving the anti-Obama sentiment, and Belmont County Tea Party head Kelly Conway agrees. The group is responsible for the many “Fire Obama” signs.
“We haven't gone out to one household — no, no, no. They come to us asking for the sign,” he said.
Romney's religion does not matter, Conway said.
“What I believe, I believe very strongly. But I also believe we have freedom of religion, and that covers Mitt Romney,” he said. “His values are phenomenal; he's got a great family. I find no fault with Mitt Romney, and I think he'll be a great president.”
Many Obama critics believe the president is Muslim — offering as evidence a June 2009 speech in Cairo in which he sought “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world,” and an April 2009 greeting at the G-20 summit in London when Obama bowed before the king of Saudi Arabia.
“It was not a mistake,” Smith said. “He was being submissive.”
Like Pastor Harden, the Rev. Brad Call of Thoburn United Methodist Church avoids discussing divisive politics during services. He said he sometimes fails, noting some sermons revealed his support of Obama's health reform law.
“We have a moral responsibility to care for one another, even if it sometimes is costly or inconvenient to do,” Call said. “If you don't think that we should be taking care of the poor, the destitute, you're missing a pretty important part of what the Bible says. But I don't think I changed too many people's minds.”
Chris Togneri is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5632 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates sign Corey Hart to 1-year deal
- Giant Eagle Inc. appears to have settled ‘fuelperks!’ lawsuit
- Rossi: Brawl for ADs between Pitt and WVU
- Police gather in Ligonier for Perryopolis officer’s funeral
- Review: No improper contact between Pa. Supreme Court justices, lawyers
- Steelers must be creative in providing snaps for linebackers
- Analysis: Misunderstood Chryst served Pitt well
- Penguins’ Maatta tests positive for mumps; Bortuzzo, Greiss negative
- Assistant at Duke eyes Pitt football job
- Beacons track shoppers’ smartphones amid retailers’ aisles
- Veteran tight end Miller’s blocking skill crucial to success to Steelers running game