LANCASTER, Pa. — Sandy Pittenturf is the sort of voter Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton need in order to win swing states such as Pennsylvania.
"I voted for Obama because I thought I'd be better off," Pittenturf, a printing company supervisor in Mount Joy, Pa., said of her 2008 vote. "Today, I'm worse off." Among her concerns: Her son, a married military veteran, has had to move in with her family.
Trump intrigues her because he's the candidate of change. But he has flaws, Pittenturf conceded. "I wish I can whisper in his ear and say, 'I'm a voter and you need to control yourself a bit,'" she said.
Her concerns are echoed throughout this battleground state and others. Interviews over the past week with about 30 swing state voters, most in Pennsylvania, found that they're largely deciding not on ideology or even issues.
Character matters most.
They don't trust Clinton. They don't like how Trump acts.
"Let's face it: Pennsylvania likely voters are not exactly enthralled with either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump," said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.
Most voters' opinions about Clinton and Trump formed long ago and have hardened. Of the voters in up-for-grabs states, those who might change their minds number 7 percent in Pennsylvania, 8 percent in Florida and 10 percent in Ohio, according to a July 30-Aug. 7 Quinnipiac poll.
America has roughly nine to 14 states that are considered tight battlegrounds, including Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and North Carolina. Some analysts include Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Polling released this week found Clinton comfortably ahead of Trump in Pennsylvania, up slightly in Ohio and Iowa, and in a virtual tie in Florida.
The key to victory: that voter who can still be convinced. Clinton has made significant gains in recent days, notably as Republican establishment stalwarts and moderates have moved away from the GOP nominee.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said this week that she would not be voting for Trump. Wednesday, former Rep. Christopher Shays, a veteran Connecticut Republican officeholder and activist, said he'd vote for Clinton. Fifty former GOP national security officials declared in a letter that Trump would be "the most reckless president in American history."
Clinton is clearly benefiting from the anti-Trump wave. Quinnipiac found that nearly half of her Pennsylvania and Ohio supporters said their main reason for backing her was they were anti-Trump, while 34 percent in Ohio and 37 percent in Pennsylvania called themselves pro-Clinton. In Florida, 42 percent said they liked Clinton while 41 percent called their Clinton votes more an anti-Trump statement.
Yet despite all of Trump's troubles, the swing states remain in play, as the presidential tickets work them hard.
In Pennsylvania, candidates are available almost on a daily basis. Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence visited Lancaster and Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Trump is due in Erie and Altoona on Friday. Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden are scheduled to campaign in Scranton next Monday.
Clinton's chief flaws: She's seen not only as an icon of the political establishment many voters loathe, but also as someone who can't be trusted.
"The thought of Hillary makes my head explode. I've distrusted this person since 1991," said Chris Huber, a Lancaster-area consultant. "But it's hard to imagine Trump being president." She's thinking of going with Libertarian Gary Johnson.
Distrust of Clinton runs deep, partly because of her use of a private email server while secretary of state in President Barack Obama's first term. "I wouldn't trust Hillary to take a stray dog to the SPCA," said Ken Howard, a Vietnam veteran from the Lehigh Valley.
But Trump and Republicans are a tough sell.
"I'm a Trump supporter, but I'm not a big Trump fan," said Brandon Miller, an automotive group manager who came to Lancaster to hear Pence.
Trump's temperament is often the biggest problem.
"I think the guy is crazy," said John Hawkins, of Gainesville, Fla., a reluctant Clinton backer.
"He's just scary. He offends people," said Barbara Allen, a Coralville, Iowa, voter polled by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion last week. An independent, she calls herself socially liberal and fiscally conservative.
She'll go with Clinton "by default."
Tammy Tasker, a Jacksonville, Fla., cosmetologist, felt the same way. "Trump is a multimillionaire who is very racist towards women and immigrants," she said.
But Tasker is no Clinton fan either, particularly because of her gender. "Women are very emotional creatures," Tasker said.
The choice is largely about personalities, but occasionally economic interests creep into the political conversation.
Wanda Nye runs a Lancaster tavern where, she says, "business should be better." She voted for Obama eight years ago and hasn't seen much of an impact. Joanne Flahart and her husband run a nearby trucking company, and saw only higher taxes that make it hard to be profitable.
"Without trucks we wouldn't have clothes to wear and food in the supermarkets," she said. Trump, she said, "understands what America needs to be."
It's a difficult, personal, uncomfortable choice for these voters. Lisa Marcoux, whose job was outsourced to a foreign country, traveled to Lancaster this week from nearby Perryville, Md., to hear Pence.
She voted for Obama in 2012; this time she's listening. She wants to hear more about trade policy and is concerned that "Clinton will keep going in the same direction."
But Trump? "He's a little worrisome," she said. "I don't know where he's going to go."
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