MASON, OHIO — Linda Thistleton cast an early ballot for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, but this pro-life voter still doesn’t consider herself a “Trump supporter.”
“I am not terribly confident,” Ms. Thistleton said of Mr. Trump, standing outside her home here at the end of a cul-de-sac in this well-groomed suburb of Cincinnati. “I mean I know where Hillary stands. So to me Trump is better than Hillary.”
Just days before the election, the pro-life troops that make up much of Republicans’ ground game are finding voters here ambivalent toward Mr. Trump — an ambivalence that some activists themselves share.
While they may have lingering questions about the GOP candidate, they are certain of what they’re getting with the Democrat.
“First of all, we don’t really pitch Donald Trump,” said Laurie Lee, an activist spearheading the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List’s get-out-the-vote efforts in Ohio. “We kind of ditch Hillary Clinton.”
The SBA list also has activists in Missouri, where a heated Senate race is underway, and in Florida and North Carolina, which are battleground states for both the presidential election and control of the Senate.
On Monday the SBA list said it knocked on its millionth door, doubling its total from the 2014 election.
“As the political arm of the pro-life movement, it’s our job is to communicate Hillary Clinton’s extremism on abortion,” said Mallory Quigley, SBA spokesperson. “That’s the message our canvassers are taking to voters in battleground states who, without the information, might vote for the pro-abortion candidates or not vote at all.”
She said her group is also targeting Senate candidates that would act as rubber stamps for Mrs. Clinton’s agenda.
“That agenda includes forcing taxpayers to fund late-term abortion on-demand,” she said. “A majority of Americans oppose this extreme stand — including many Democrats. Hearts, minds, and votes can be changed when they know the extremism of the other side, that’s why we’re working to educate voters.”
The literature they’re passing out in Ohio makes no mention of Mr. Trump, but it does include a picture of a glum-looking Mrs. Clinton and a warning about how the former secretary of state — as well as former Gov. Ted Strickland, who is challenging Republican Sen. Rob Portman — “support late-term abortion and taxpayer-funded abortions.”
“If you want your vote to really count, there are two options — there is Hillary Clinton and there is Donald Trump,” Ms. Lee said. “So knowing that Hillary has nobody around her — not [her running mate] Tim Kaine and not anybody in her cabinet, not anybody in the Senate — that would be supportive of the life issue, regardless that they all claim to be Christians and Catholics, then where do evangelicals and people of faith and Catholics go? What do you do?”
That Mr. Trump, a twice-divorced casino magnate who as late as 1999 opposed a ban on late-term abortions, is the answer to that question is surprising to many political observers, including pro-life activists and voters. Recent allegations of sexual assault leveled against Mr. Trump have only reinforced the painful decisions GOP voters face.
Pro-life voters say they believe Mr. Trump has evolved on the abortion issue, and say the proof is his pick of running mate Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana, as well as his list of potential Supreme Court justices, which is replete with pro-life champions.
Pro-lifers also have marveled at Mr. Trump’s children, saying they show that there is more to Mr. Trump than the brash persona that often steals the spotlight on the campaign trail. And some are willing to give the candidate a pass on the lewd remarks he has made in the past, arguing that Mrs. Clinton’s husband, former President Clinton, did worse.
Christian leaders, including Liberty President Jerry Falwell, Jr., Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, and Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, have rallied behind him.
Others, however, including Russell B. Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, have said Christians should not settle for the lesser-of-two-evils arguments, and students at Liberty University have made it clear they disagree with Mr. Falwell, who endorsed Mr. Trump early on in the primary over a large field of candidates, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who many saw as a more natural fit for evangelical Christians and pro-life activists.
The hot-and-cold response to Mr. Trump is evident on the ground here in Ohio, where 3 in 10 voters identified as white born-again Christians in the 2012 race. Of those, 69 percent lined up behind Mitt Romney and 30 percent with President Obama. Nearly 4 in 10 voters said abortion should be illegal, and 55 percent said it should be legal.
Tim Fritts said he is backing Mr. Trump, though he said it is “sad” that the election has basically boiled down to a choice between Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton.
“I mean I feel good with Trump. I feel good overall, but it is scary,” Mr. Fritts said, before bursting out into an uneasy laughter over the Republican nominee.
The 58-year-old also said he is disappointed with Republicans, including Mr. Romney, who have come out against Mr. Trump.
“It drives me nuts, the Republicans that are bashing Trump so bad because I think they are abandoning some of the crucial things like the Supreme Court change, the abortion issue and all of that,” he said.
Others are appalled by Mr. Trump, including one woman, who refused to give her name but identified as pro-life and a regular Republican voter, and signaled she is planning on supporting Mr. Portman but not Mr. Trump.
“I think he is a loose cannon, as far as everything other than [being] pro-life,” she told The Washington Times.
Still, the SBA List and other pro-life groups say they’re making a difference in the race by targeting low-propensity voters that are on the fence and could be turned away from Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Strickland.
Michael Cosby, a 22-year-old student at Franciscan University, a Catholic school, who has been leading one of the more successful teams of door-knockers, said the effort is paying off particularly with voters that are either unfamiliar with Mrs. Clinton’s stance on abortion or reluctant to oppose abortion altogether, but are open to the idea of banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
“Sometimes it does make a difference having someone come talk to them for five minutes at their door, help them realize, ‘Oh, I am going to vote for someone who is for abortion. I didn’t know Hillary Clinton was for partial birth abortion,’ the 22-said.
“If you are pro-life and you are choosing the next presidential candidate, what you should be doing is focusing on the lesser of the evils, and focusing on someone who agrees with their beliefs,” he said.