Not long before Michigan residents headed to the polls early this morning for their part in another round of unofficially-“Super Tuesday” primaries, Ohio Gov. John Kasich got a piece of good news that countered his dismal losing streak, now 20 states long. An ARG survey released several days ago showed the unimposing 63-year-old candidate edging front-runner Donald Trump by a slim margin of 33 to 31 percent in this largely white working class blue state.
That modest figure represented a big leap for Kasich, an underdog despite a strong finish in New Hampshire and endorsements from 35 newspapers across the country, including the New York Times, which described him as the “only plausible choice for Republicans tired of the extremism and inexperience on display in this race.”
But Kasich, first elected Ohio governor without GOP opposition in 2010, keeps plugging away. He spent more time stumping in Michigan, a state that neighbors his own, than any of the other Republican presidential hopefuls. And he has been buoyed by recent polls showing approval for his above-the fray performance in the GOP debate in Detroit last Thursday night, when he declined to indulge in the school yard taunts exchanged by Trump and the other remaining GOP rivals, Gov. Marco Rubio of Florida and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. He also seems to have picked up some upscale suburban voters in Michigan, who had previously supported the increasingly less relevant Rubio as an establishment alternative to Trump.
But Kasich’s restraint has a decided down side. He complained to reporters on Monday in Lansing that he doesn’t “get the attention” from the media that his rancorous opponents do.
Earlier, at a town hall meeting Friday night in Holland, a man told Kasich: “We love you, but my wife says, ‘I think it’s a waste of a vote.’”
Kasich, according to a website, responded: “Are you kidding me? I’m going to win Ohio, and I’m going to become the Republican nominee.” He added, however, that he would “not go down into the mud and in the gutter to win.”
His long shot strategy, characterized by one of his advisers as a typical politician’s “wing and a prayer,” is to do well in Michigan and thereby gain enough momentum to prevail over Trump in his winner-take-all home state where the bombastic businessman from New York led him in a recent poll by 35 to 26 percent among likely Republican voters. Other polls show the two men in a statistical dead heat. If Kasich loses in delegate rich Ohio on March 15, the game may be over for him.
Kasich has said he does not expect to win the nomination outright, leaving open the possibility of a brokered convention this summer in Cleveland if Trump, already weakened by loses on Saturday in Kansas and Maine, does not obtain the required 1237 delegates to win on the first ballot. Kasich has also said he will back the GOP nominee.
Until then, Kasich has picked up powerful support from prominent Republican moderates who might help him do well in California and on the Eastern seaboard. These include former New Jersey Gov. (who had supported Chris Christie before he dropped out of the race and endorsed Donald Trump) and former California governor and film star Arnold Schwartzenegger, who showed up in Columbus, Ohio on Saturday for his annual Arnold Classic Body Building Competition.
“When he went to Washington, he kicked some serious butt–he was an action hero,” said Schwartzenegger, referring to Kasich’s 18-year-tenure in the House of Representatives where he was known both as a rebel with an independent streak who worked with both sides of the aisle and also as a Newt Gingrich style Republican who got things done.(Gingrich has said that Kasich has a shot as a presidential or vice presidential nominee at the convention.)
Kasich also received an endorsement March 6 from former conservative radio host Michael Reagan, the adopted son of Michael Reagan and Jane Wyman, the late California governor’s first wife.
Said Reagan, “You see many Republicans claiming the label of ‘Reagan conservative’ but not many whose leadership truly embodies my father’s principles and spirit. Gov. John Kasich is a noteworthy exception. As a Member of Congress, he made a name for himself as a problem-solver and a diplomat when he worked across the aisle to balance the federal budget. As Governor of Ohio, he used conservative, commonsense reforms to breathe new life into a state that was undergoing a painful decline.”
It all sounded good. On paper.
Photo: Ohio Governor John Kasich speaks at the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, March 4, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts