The GOP needs Ohio in 2016, but does it need Kasich?

May 10, 2015

Can the Republicans win the White House without winning Ohio next year?

Conventional wisdom (not to mention history, which is a better guide) says, no, they can’t. No Republican president – and we’re going back to the very first, Abraham Lincoln – has ever won the White House without winning Ohio.

In fact, the way the electoral college map skews toward Democratic presidential candidates, most political analysts see the Republican nominee coming up short of the 270 electoral votes needed to win without taking both Ohio and Florida.

Barack Obama won them in his two elections, but he would have been elected president with or without them. George W. Bush, on the other, would have lost in both 2000 and 2004 without winning both Florida and Ohio.

Enter John Kasich.

Ohio’s Republican governor has done practically everything a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination can do except formally announce his candidacy and set up a committee with the Federal Elections Commission.

The ranks of those who believe Kasich will not run are becoming thin indeed.

So, if Ohio is so all-fired important to the GOP’s chance of winning back the White House (and it is), does that mean Kasich has  to be on the GOP ticket, either as the presidential or vice presidential candidate, when the Republicans gather for their nominating convention next July?

Well, maybe so. Or maybe not. But it probably wouldn’t hurt if he were on the ticket – given that he was re-elected last fall with nearly 64 percent of the vote and has a high approval rating among Buckeye voters.

“Most people, myself included, think that if Kasich were on the ticket, either as president or vice president, it would probably be a fair bet that the Republicans would win Ohio,’’ said John C. Green, director of the University of Akron’s Ray C. Bliss Institute for Applied Politics.

But, Green, said, “there are no guarantees. You never know. It couldn’t hurt.”

Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, and his colleagues, Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley wrote a detailed piece on the 2016 electoral college map for last week’s edition of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a closely watched weekly newsletter of national politics.

Sabato, Kondik and Skelley made it very clear they think there is no clear path to the White House for the Republicans without winning Ohio and Florida.

“If a Republican can’t win Ohio, can he win other competitive Midwestern states that are usually more Democrat, such as Pennsylvania or Wisconsin?,’’ They wrote.

“That’s very doubtful as the Keystone and Badger states have been more Democratic than Ohio in every presidential election going back to 1964, when Lyndon Johnson performed slightly better in Ohio than Wisconsin,” they wrote.

Pennsylvania, they said, has been more Democratic than Ohio in every election since 1948.

And what about Florida?

“Similarly, if Republicans can’t win Florida, they would likely have to make it up in the Midwest and Pennsylvania,’’ Sabato’s Crystal Ball said.

So if Florida and Ohio are so important for the Republicans, what about a Florida/Ohio GOP ticket, or an Ohio/Florida ticket? Would that seal the deal for the GOP?

After all, there are two  well-known Florida Republicans in the mix for the GOP nomination – former governor Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

“A Bush/Kasich ticket or a Rubio/Kasich ticket could conceivably be enough to win both states,’’ Green said. “And winning Ohio and Florida – well, that would be a giant step for the Republicans.”

Kondik, Skelley, and Sabato seem not to be so sure that Bush or Rubio might give the GOP a home state advantage in Florida, although they point out that the last two presidents did get a boost in their home states – Illinois and Texas. Both Illinois and Texas were not as competitive as Florida Is likely to be.

Sabato’s Crystal Ball said it is worth mentioning that Kasich “has strong approval ratings back home (61 percent, according to Quinnipiac University), although he is a less plausible nominee that Bush, Rubio or (Wisconsin governor) Scott Walker.”

But, they said, “he might have the best case of any of the potential nominees for prompting  a ratings change in his home state, though as with the others, we would need strong polling data to back that up.”

Kasich is nothing like most of the ever-growing crowd of GOP presidential contenders.

He’s taken positions that don’t go over well with the party’s conservative wing, which holds enormous influence in some early caucus and primary states like Iowa and South Carolina.

The Ohio governor favors Common Core education standards, favors Ohio accepting Medicaid dollars from Obamacare, and has wagged his finger and lectured his own party for not doing enough for the poorest among us.

His philosophy might hinder him in some early primaries and caucuses, Green said, “but, from a general election standpoint, he looks like a real asset.”

Kasich, Green said, “has this unorthodox Republicanism that could appeal to a lot of people. He’s totally un-scripted. If people are looking for an authentic human being, spontaneous and un-scripted, they’d have one in John Kasich.”

Kasich has set up a non-profit 527 committee called New Day for America to raise money for his travels around the country, to early primary and caucus states and elsewhere. It could easily be converted into a presidential exploratory committee.

The question many are asking is simple: Can he win?

No one has the answer to that.

Green said Kasich would have “a chance to be competitive early because the field is so large.”

And the idea that Kasich might concentrate what money he has on New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary might work well.

“New Hampshire has a penchant for supporting mavericks,’’ Green said. “But he would have to do well. And coming in second wouldn’t be that bad.”

But as the field narrows – and it will – Kasich would have a real challenge in raising the kind of money it will take to be competitive in later primaries, Green said.

“He needs to find some very wealthy person or persons to fund a Super PAC for him,’’ Green said.

Green said he has no idea when Kasich might formally announce – assuming he does. But he does not believe it is getting too late.

“I could see him making it official sometime around Labor Day,’’ Green said.

When and if Kasich makes it official, one thing will be clear – his biggest advantage might be that he has the words “second-term governor of Ohio” on his resume.

Because, once again, Ohio is at the heart of it all.