December 30, 2004


GOP's Soft Sell Swayed the Amish: Unlikely Voters Cast Lot With Bush (Evelyn Nieves, December 30, 2004, Washington Post)

Yes, the Republicans, true to their vow to leave no vote unwooed, came to Lancaster County hoping to win over the famously reclusive Old Order Amish -- who shun most modern ways -- along with their slightly less-strict brethren, the Mennonites. Democrats laughed at the very idea. The Amish had no use for politics. Were the Republicans that desperate? But the GOP effort, underscored by President Bush's meeting with some Amish families in early July, did the trick.

"Yup, we voted this time," said an elder Old Order Amish man approached at his home-based quilt shop on Route 340. He had a beard that straggled down to his chest and bright blue eyes. His first name, he said, is Amos, but in keeping with the Amish edict against calling attention to oneself, he would not give his last name.

"I didn't vote for the last 30 years," he said, puffing on a pipe. "But Bush seemed to have our Christian principles." [...]

In recent months, reports of child abuse in Amish country have made local papers and national news. The reality show "Amish in the City" has brought a slew of curiosity seekers asking all kinds of questions. (Do you take showers? Read newspapers? Ride buses? Yes, yes and yes.) And the plain people have daily worries as well. "We've been worrying about liquor and beer being sold in the grocery stores," said Sam, a gazebo maker and writer who said he would "get into trouble" if his last name was printed.

"We were down," Sam said, "and when the president visited, it cheered us right up. We got a firsthand look at him, and it really warmed our hearts."

In short, as Sam and half a dozen other Amish men explained (women were hard to find, and harder to talk to), Bush won votes with a time-honored campaign convention: He showed up. On July 9 his campaign bus rolled down Route 340, hoping to fire up the base in Republican Lancaster County. The Amish, watching the spectacle from the road, became part of it.

"We came out," Amos said. "We were about 70 people. One of his security said he wanted to meet us and invited us to meet with him across the road at Lapp's Electric."

"They knew we didn't like publicity," said Amos, smiling at the recollection. "So the president met with us all in an office at Lapp's. He shook everyone's hand -- even the littlest ones in their mother's arms -- and he told us all he hoped we would exercise our right and vote."

Did Bush ask them to vote for him?

"Nope," Amos said. "That's another thing we liked about him."

You can't find this story surprising if you were paying attention, Bush quietly meets with Amish here; they offer their prayers (Jack Brubaker, 7/16/04, Lancaster New Era)
President Bush met privately with a group of Old Order Amish during his visit to Lancaster County last Friday. He discussed their farms and their hats and his religion.He asked them to vote for him in November.

The Amish told the president that not all members of the church vote but they would pray for him.

Bush had tears in his eyes when he replied. He said the president needs their prayers. He also said that having a strong belief in God is the only way he can do his job.

This story has not been reported before. You might think an observant press follows the president everywhere, especially during a re-election campaign, but no reporter attended this meeting.

Sam Stoltzfus, an Old Order historian and writer who lives in Gordonville, spoke with a number of people present at the session with the president.

He related what happened to the Scribbler, saying the Amish “caught Bush’s heart.’’

The 20-minute meeting with Bush occurred immediately after the president addressed a select audience at Lapp Electric Service in Smoketown Friday afternoon.

An Amish woman who lives on a farm across Witmer Road from Lapp Electric that morning had presented a quilt to the president with a card thanking him for his leadership of the country.

Bush said he would like to talk to the quilter and her family.

So the Secret Service invited the family to meet the president. Friends wanted to come along, and the entire assembly eventually numbered about 60. They were evenly divided between adults and children of all ages.

The group walked together across the road to Lapp Electric.

Stoltzfus reports: “It took a while to get them through the metal detectors as these were farmers and shop men, with vice grips, pocket knives, and nuts and bolts in their pockets. Some ladies had baby gear. All pockets had to be emptied.’’

When the Amish were “found not to be a serious threat to national security,’’ they were allowed inside the office area of Lapp Electric and waited about 30 minutes for the president to appear.

“Babies got restless. Children squirmed,’’ Stoltzfus reports. “Suddenly the president and five Secret Service men stepped into the room. One housewife said, ‘Are you George Bush?’’’

The president replied in the affirmative and shook hands all around, asking the names of all. He especially thanked the “quilt frau,’’ who operates her own business selling quilts and crafts.

“He seemed relaxed and just like an old neighbor,’’ says Stoltzfus.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 30, 2004 11:38 PM

I notice he courted the vote of the "conservative" Amish, instead of those wild and crazy "liberal" Mennonites.

Posted by: h-man at December 31, 2004 5:01 AM

I don't think it can be explained to an outsider how significant an act it is for the Old Amish to actually vote. My father-in-law was shunned by the PA Mennonites (them crazy liberals :-) because he felt obligated to fight the Nazis in WWII. He ended up marrying a wild woman -- a Baptist.

My in-laws continue to live in Amish country. For an Old Amish to go and actually vote is simply incredible.

Posted by: Gideon at December 31, 2004 6:01 AM

Well, it certainly worked out better than John Kerry's disastrous attempt to woo snake handlers.

Posted by: Governor Breck at December 31, 2004 7:09 AM