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Politically Speaking is WVXU Senior Political Analyst Howard Wilkinson's column that examines the world of politics and how it shapes the world around us.

Why some Republicans want you to vote for Democrats

Voter's hand holding election ballot for the U.S. Democratic Party with the donkey symbol, inserting the vote into the ballot box.
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Voter's hand holding election ballot for the U.S. Democratic Party with the donkey symbol, inserting the vote into the ballot box. Concept image of American democracy and the U.S. election process. Voters making their selection and putting in the voting ballot for the liberal Democratic Party. Photographed in horizontal format.

Christopher Gibbs is a Shelby County farmer, growing corn and soybeans about 100 miles north of Cincinnati. He is also a former chairman of his county's Republican Party.

Carl Stich Jr. is a former Republican common pleas court judge in Hamilton County who specializes in mediation and dispute resolution in his private law practice.

Clearly, they come from different worlds.

But there are two things that bind them together — their anger and disgust over the hijacking of the Republican Party by Donald Trump, and a desire to convince other Republicans tired of the MAGA/QAnon vitriol to help put an end to it.

"The only way to stop this is for Republican voters to send a message to the Republican Party in November saying that this extremism is unacceptable," Stich said. "And the way they send that message is by voting for Democrats."

Stich and Gibbs are among a growing group of present and former Republicans who have joined WelcomePAC, a committee organized by Democrats for the sole purpose of trying to convince Republican and independent voters to jump ship and vote Democratic in the mid-term election.

In Ohio, WelcomePAC seems to be focused on the race for an open U.S. Senate seat, where Democratic congressman Tim Ryan is in a tight race with author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance.

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The advisory board of WelcomePAC has some familiar names in Ohio GOP politics — former State Rep. Rocky Saxbe (the son of the late senator William Saxbe); former Ohio attorney general Jim Petro; and John M. Bridgeland, who served in the Bush 43 administration and was chief of staff to Rob Portman when Portman was in the U.S. House.

Many are still Republicans, although they separate themselves from all things Trump. Others, like Gibbs, have left the party altogether and identify now as Democrats.

"I've already taken Democratic ballots in two primary elections this year," said Gibbs, referring to the May primary and the August 2 primary for congressional candidates.

Gibbs broke with the Republican Party for good in 2019.

"I voted for Trump in 2016, although I had voted for Jeb Bush in the primary," Gibbs said. "I didn't like Trump, but I honestly thought that there wasn't any damage he could do that our Congress and our institutions couldn’t fix. Boy, was I wrong."

His final break with Trump came in 2018, when Trump met with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki and sided with the Russian dictator, saying he believed Putin over U.S. intelligence services when it came to the question of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

"I was furious when I watched Trump on TV throwing our intelligence services under the bus to cozy up to Putin," Gibbs said. "I was so mad I thought about putting my foot through the TV screen, but I decided against it. It would have cost $375 to replace and Trump wasn't worth that much money."

"I believed in 'compassionate conservatism.' There is nothing at all compassionate in Donald Trump's world."
Christopher Gibbs

Gibbs was chair of the Shelby County Republican Party's executive committee in one of the most reliably red counties in Ohio. Trump won Shelby County with 78% of the vote in 2016 and his support in the county only grew over the next four years — Trump was up to 81% of the vote in 2020.

But he walked away from the county party chairmanship and the party itself. He couldn’t live with a Republican Party mesmerized by Donald Trump.

"I was from the Republican tradition of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush; I believed in 'compassionate conservatism,' " Gibbs said. "There is nothing at all compassionate in Donald Trump's world."

Early in Tim Ryan's U.S. Senate campaign, Gibbs invited the Democratic candidate to come to his farm and meet with a group of Shelby County farmers.

"I invited about 30 farmers, 28 of them showed up, all but two Republicans," Gibbs said. "Tim came and sat in a lawn chair. The farmers were sitting around him on hay bales.

"Tim spoke for five minutes," Gibbs said. "And then he spent 75 minutes listening to the farmers. He told them that he came from the Mahoning Valley and didn't know that much about agriculture, but he wanted to learn. And that impressed them. A lot."

"That's the kind of politicians we need," Gibbs said. "Less talking and more listening."

'What does this party stand for?'

Stich, too, said he came out of a more civil tradition in the Republican Party.

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"I wasn't very political in my early years as a lawyer, but I got involved in the party when people like Ralph Kohnen and Gene Ruehlmann ran the Hamilton County Republican Party — good men, who did it for the right reasons."

Ruehlmann, who passed away in 2013, was the last Republican to serve as mayor of Cincinnati, holding that office from 1967 to 1971. He was the county party chair in the 1990s.

"Gene Ruehlmann was a strong Republican, but he believed in bipartisanship for the good of the community,'' Stich said. "There doesn't seem to be room in the Republican Party these days for that kind of leader."

The nomination of Trump in 2016 was all it took for Stich to realize that this was no longer the party he had known.

"When Donald Trump became the standard-bearer, I had to scratch my head and ask myself, 'What does this party stand for?' " Stich said.

"I've come to the conclusion that the problem will not get better until we send a message to the Republican Party," Stich said. "And the way we do that is by sending good Democrats, moderate Democrats, to Washington, D.C."

Both men agree that the election of Ryan would be a step in the right direction.

"It doesn't have to be a mass movement of Republicans to the Democratic side," Gibbs said. "If the polls between Ryan and Vance are that close, it could be decided by a relative handful of Republicans voting for the Democrats.

"That's why every Republican we persuade means so much."

Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU News Team after 30 years of covering local and state politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio governor’s race since 1974 as well as 12 presidential nominating conventions. His streak continued by covering both the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions for 91.7 WVXU. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots; the Lucasville Prison riot in 1993; the Air Canada plane crash at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983; and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. The Cincinnati Reds are his passion. "I've been listening to WVXU and public radio for many years, and I couldn't be more pleased at the opportunity to be part of it,” he says.