Hillary Clinton looks to win Republican voters in Ohio

Hillary Clinton, seizing on Donald Trump’s diminished prospects in a battleground state that had previously tilted in his favor, is trying to eek out a win in Ohio by courting an unexpected group of voters: Republicans.

In suburban pockets of the state that voted for Mitt Romney four years ago, the Clinton campaign is making a late and aggressive push to win over moderate Republicans -- especially women -- who are repulsed by the idea of casting a ballot for Trump.

“I think the American dream is big enough for everybody,” Clinton said last week at a rally in Columbus, the largest of her campaign to date, in remarks aimed squarely at voters on the fence. “And I am honored to have support, not just from Democrats, but from independents and Republicans, because we’ve got to pull this country together.”

Nowhere is this push more evident than in Delaware County, a fast-growing and prosperous exurb of Columbus where Romney defeated President Barack Obama by nearly 25 points in 2012.

There are 60,789 likely Republican voters in Delaware County, according to the nonpartisan data firm L2 and HaystaqDNA, a predictive analytics firm that worked on the Obama campaign in 2012. Their model of Ohio voters has identified 5,794 likely Clinton-backing Republicans in the county — and 5,483 undecided Republicans. 

That’s a small pool of potential voters compared to larger counties like Cuyahoga (38,827 potential crossover voters, according to L2/HaystaqDNA) and Hamilton (19,059), but a crucial set of targets in such a close race. 

Despite their historical disadvantage here, Clinton campaign organizers spent the weekend knocking on doors, hoping to peel away voters turned off by Trump’s string of incendiary comments and the swirling controversy around the shocking Access Hollywood video that has eroded his poll numbers.

On Sunday, a group of men and women from the Columbus area -- along with the Democratic mayor of Louisville who just happened to be passing through -- gathered at Sally Van Meter’s home in Powell for sandwiches, cookies, and a pep talk before fanning out across the area.

Raena Chao, a 38-year-old from the neighboring town of Lewis Center, was in attendance. She has a six-year-old son and a full time job at a dental office, but she said she is more involved with this campaign than she was in 2012, volunteering for Clinton twice a week, on Thursdays and Sundays.

“We’re going to elect the first woman president of the U.S.,” Chao told CBS News as she walked the carefully planned streets and cul de sacs of Powell with printed walk sheets of targeted voters. “If it were easier, it would have been done before.”

Chao acknowledged the challenges of knocking on doors in a Republican-leaning neighborhood and was instructed by her organizer to not spend too much time persuading undecided voters.

“We are in the turnout phase of the campaign, so we are trying to use our resources really effectively,” Molly O’Connor, a 22-year-old organizer told the group. “If you run into a trump supporter, say have a nice day and exit from the area.” 

But with the help of Clinton campaign data modeling that identified households occupied by both committed or soft Clinton supporters, Chao visited 30 homes and only two residents told her they were undecided. The rest were promising to vote for Clinton, and Chao’s job was to convince them to vote early or sign up to volunteer.

With Halloween on the horizon, the yards she walked through were decorated with cobwebs, pumpkins and fake graves. But some had boldly planted Clinton-Kaine campaign signs -- a sight that would have been unlikely four years ago.

The area has not voted for a Democrat since 1916. In 2012, Republican nominee Romney won the county by 61 percent, and in 2008, John McCain won 59 percent of the vote in the county.

In the Republican primary this year, the county voted overwhelmingly for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who won nearly 65 percent of the vote here.

Delaware County might not be friendly to Democrats, but it isn’t a hotbed of the kind of white working class grievance that has fueled Trump’s campaign. The median income in 2014 here was $91,936, and over 50 percent of the population has a college degree.

For the Clinton campaign, peeling off white Republican voters here could counters Trump’s potential gains with downscale white voters in more rural areas of Ohio.

They aren’t concealing their strategy.

Last week, the Clinton campaign’s go-to Republican whisperer -- former President Bill Clinton -- held court in a packed barn on the Delaware County fairgrounds. He was introduced by a woman named Stephanie Perkins, who identified herself as Republican-leaning, but told the crowd she was supporting Clinton.

“As this election is getting nastier and nastier, some of the values, the social values, the Republican Party has left me behind,” Perkins told the audience. 

Anne Holton, the wife of vice-presidential candidate Tim Kaine, also campaigned in the area in late September.

The Clinton campaign also released emotional ad released last week starring a Republican mother named Jennifer Kohn and her autistic son. Kohn tells viewers she is crossing party lines to vote for Clinton.

Even one of the state’s senior-most Republicans, Sen. Rob Portman, appears to be coming around the to realization that Clinton’s brand in Ohio is far less toxic than Trump’s.

Portman, who is running for re-election against Democrat Ted Strickland, is now using Clinton’s “Stronger Together” language in his direct mail pieces.

As Chao walked through Powell knocking on doors, with a CBS News reporter in tow, she didn’t feel like she was in enemy territory.

“Trump’s insane,” one father yelled over his 19-year-old son’s shoulder as Chao urged him to cast his for Clinton on their doorstep. The college student was one of only two undecided voters she encountered. The remainder of her interactions were overwhelmingly positive.

“No Trumpers allowed in the driveway,” Nancy Butterman, a 55-year-old teacher, joked as she greeted Chao outside her home.

Butterman quickly stated that she and her husband had already made a commitment to early vote together.

“We are pro-Hillary, pro-education, pro-women’s rights,” Butterman said. “No biased, racist, bigoted conversations in our house, at all.”

Women like Butterman are prime targets for Clinton volunteers.

Trump only leads Clinton with white women by two points, according to a Marist poll of Ohio released last week. That means he is underperforming Romney’s performance among white women, who voted for the Republican nominee over Obama by seven points in 2012.

On Sunday, Kathleen Smith was mowing her lawn in a tennis skirt when Chao approached her to gauge her support for Clinton.

Smith replied that her whole household would be voting for Clinton and that she had already signed up for a time to vote early. She was even optimistic about Clinton’s chances to win the county - a prospect that Clinton campaign officials deem unlikely.

“She might have a shot,” Smith said. “I think there are there issues people aren’t happy with, but if you put both candidates records on paper with no names, there is no way that you couldn’t pick her with her experience.”

“It’s just unfathomable that people would still just think it’s okay and overlook Trump’s comments,” Smith added.