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0000017a-3b40-d913-abfe-bf44a4f90000Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU news team as the politics reporter and columnist in April 2012 , after 30 years of covering local, state and national politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. On this page, you will find his weekly column, Politically Speaking; the Monday morning political chats with News Director Maryanne Zeleznik and other news coverage by Wilkinson. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio gubernatorial race since 1974, as well as 16 presidential nominating conventions. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots, the Lucasville prison riot in 1993, the Air Canada plane crash at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983, and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. And, given his passion for baseball, you might even find some stories about the Cincinnati Reds here from time to time.

Kasich and Paul: Does either have a shot at the GOP nomination?

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Ohio is a quadrennial battleground in presidential elections; and Kentucky – well, Kentucky is not, but they do love their politics in the Commonwealth. Though not as much as they love their basketball.

But the two states separated by the muddy river may both do something they don’t do very often, at least not in the past century: produce bona fide presidential candidates.

They are, of course, the junior U.S. senator from Bowling Green, Ky., Rand Paul; and the native Pennsylvanian-turned-Buckeye who was re-elected governor last fall in a cakewalk, John Kasich.

Paul is certainly going to run.

Otherwise why would the Kentucky senator be launching his “National Stand with Rand Tour’’ on Tuesday at Louisville’s historic Galt House Hotel?

He’ll follow his Louisville rally with a Wednesday rally in the town hall of Milford, N.H. On Thursday, “Stand with Rand” moves on to Mount Pleasant, S.C., for a rally at the U.S.S. Yorktown, the historic aircraft carrier anchored there. Then, on Friday, it’s the Student Union at the University of Iowa in Iowa City; and finally a Nevada rally at a time and place to be announced.

New Hampshire. Iowa. South Carolina. Nevada. What do they have in common? Well, they are all early primary and caucus states in the contest for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.

Paul’s presidential ambitions are pretty clear; they have been for a long time now.

Kasich, less so. He has been coy about his plans so far. And the time for being coy is quickly running out. But he has been to South Carolina on the crusade to get a federal constitutional amendment passed requiring a balanced budget.

And, last Tuesday, he spent the day in New Hampshire – traditional home of the first-in-the-nation primary – where, among other things, he spoke at the “Politics and Eggs” breakfast that is a must on the itinerary of anyone  wanting to be the next president.

Asked by reporters if he is about to make a decision on running for the GOP nomination, Kasich said again what he has been saying for months, that “all my options on are on the table.”

NH1, a New Hampshire TV news operation, quoted him about his forays into early primary territory.

“I’m obviously traveling more,’’ Kasich said. “Probably build a little more infrastructure. But I’m not ready to make a decision on this and, listen, I gotta tell you all. This is not cat and mouse. You decide you want to go for some sort of job like this, it takes a lot. It’s not something you do cavalierly.”

If Kasich is going to make a run at it, he’d probably better get on it sooner rather than later.

Right now, he barely registers in national polling among GOP voters.

Real Clear Politics (RCP), a website that tracks polling and political news, compiled the last five national polls done among GOP voters on their presidential preference and averaged them out. Kasich comes in with 1.7 percent support.

That’s not to say anyone is running away with it. Only four prospective candidates averaged out in double figures:

  • Former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker were tied at 16.6 percent.
  • Conservative author and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson drew 10.6 percent.
  • Former Arkansas governor and Fox News host Mike Huckabee had 10.2 percent.
  • Rand Paul was next, with 8.4 percent.

It’s a wide open race.
Mack Mariani, an associate professor of political science at Xavier University, said one of Kasich’s problems is that he doesn’t seem to be anyone’s first choice for president.

And the traffic, he said, is going to get heavy as the early primary and caucus season heats up.

“The challenge for Kasich is that a lot of candidates are going to have to implode for him to have a chance,’’ Mariani said. “Now, a lot of candidates do implode in presidential races. So it’s not impossible. But it is difficult.”

Jeb Bush, assuming he commits to the race, “is going to have bucket loads of money,’’ Mariani said.

And that means Bush and some of the other better known candidates are going to snap up most of the most experienced campaign staffers, the ones with winning track records.

“There are only so many top tier press secretaries and foreign policy advisers out there,’’ Mariani said. “Candidates who move too late are going to be left with the second and third string people.”

He doesn’t count Kasich out, but he gives Paul a better chance, if only because he is a conservative who comes out of the libertarian wing of the party and is staking out voters who may not usually vote in GOP primaries and caucuses.

Primaries, Mariani said, attract a relatively small number of voters.

Paul, he said, “has the ability to expand the Republican constituency in ways others don’t,’’ Mariani said. “He can attract people whose world view doesn’t really fit either party.”

“Everybody else is out there selling cola, but Rand Paul’s selling Sprite,’’ Mariani said. “Something completely different.”

But the one thing Paul does not want to do is be pigeon-holed as a fringe candidate. He will need to appeal to at least some mainstream GOP voters to win the nomination.

And the one thing John Kasich, if he really wants to be president, does not want to do is to move too late and get lost in the crowd.

Both are walking a very fine line.