COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Yet to win a state and far behind in the delegate count, John Kasich turns to Ohio hoping high approval ratings and a robust get-out-the-vote operation will deliver him a victory in his home state next Tuesday.
Should he succeed, Kasich would deprive Donald Trump of the 66 winner-take-all delegates, slowing the businessman’s path toward clinching the GOP nomination outright.
“Now the home court advantage is coming north,” Kasich declared Tuesday night to supporters in Columbus. “And next week, we are going to win the state of Ohio.”
Trump’s message of economic populism could make him a force among Ohio’s working-class voters, but a recent preference poll indicates Kasich is close on Trump’s trail.
Kasich’s campaign, alongside the state GOP and the outside group backing his candidacy, is running an aggressive ground game aimed at reminding voters why they’ve twice elected Kasich to the governor’s seat.
Polls show Kasich enjoys support from a majority of Ohio residents, and he’s made the state’s economic turnaround a centerpiece of his presidential campaign. When speaking to voters, he brags about turning the state’s $8 billion deficit into a $2 billion surplus and adding hundreds of thousands of jobs after the recession – two points highlighted in a campaign ad currently running statewide.
But his record in Ohio didn’t translate into a win in neighboring Michigan, where Trump won big on Tuesday night, with Kasich came in third behind Ted Cruz. Still, Kasich told supporters he was “very pleased” with the results, adding that voters are finally beginning to reward his positive message.
The Ohio Legislature’s decision to make this year’s contest a winner-take-all primary could prove critical to keeping Trump from receiving the necessary 1,237 delegates for the GOP nomination, increasing the chances of a contested convention this summer. Marco Rubio is hoping for a similar upset Tuesday in his home state of Florida, where 99 delegates are at stake.
But Kasich’s campaign is boosted by the endorsement of the Ohio Republican Party, which has lent manpower and resources to the Ohio effort as Kasich focused on other states. For weeks, the party and the super PAC backing Kasich have been contacting voters who requested absentee ballots, urging them to vote for Kasich. The most recent data from the Ohio secretary of state’s office shows roughly 118,000 voters requested Republican absentee ballots.
“We have the ball running free down the field,” party chairman Matt Borges said, suggesting Kasich’s competitors aren’t putting the necessary time and attention into campaigning in the state. “Even if it’s a close election, I think Gov. Kasich wins Ohio. That changes the whole dynamic of this race.”
Trump’s campaign says it has 10 offices, five paid staffers and thousands of volunteers deployed across the state. At two recent Kasich events in the state, Trump signs dotted the landscape outside.
Doris Schumacher, a storeowner in Republican-heavy Findlay, Ohio, said she’s choosing between Trump and her governor. Schumacher likes that Trump is a political outsider, but also says Kasich’s “calm, easy going, pleasant demeanor” appeals to her. But she’s skeptical of the $2 billion state surplus Kasich touts on the trail because taxes on her farmland went up last year.
But for Jon Calvelage, a coffee shop owner in Findlay, Kasich’s tenure in Ohio is proof that he’d be a good president.
“He’s the only one that I would put any trust in,” Calvelage said, noting Kasich’s competitors are “more concerned with fighting.”
Should Kasich win his home state, his climb to the nomination remains steep; he’d need to win well over half of the remaining delegates. He acknowledges his chances for clinching the nomination sit in a convention – noting wryly that Cleveland is an ideal place for such a battle to be waged. Such a scenario would mark a fresh round of chaos in the GOP contest, but Kasich doesn’t seem worried.
“I think it’s important, when you go to a convention, when you end up there – which it looks like we will – that it be a fair process. The delegates will be smart, and they’ll figure it out,” he told reporters recently in Michigan.
But long before a convention, winning Ohio comes first. For a campaign that’s been reluctant to set expectations, there are no questions about the necessity of a victory next Tuesday.
As Borges, the state party chair, put it, “this is gonna be John Kasich’s to lose.”