Does Kasich Have A Strong Hand To Play At A Contested Convention?

Apr 17, 2016

  Maybe, if you believe in April's polling as a predictor of what could happen in the Nov. 8 presidential election, the Republicans already have a candidate who could beat the Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton, in the Electoral College.

Whoop her by a long shot, in fact.

That candidate would be the governor of Ohio, John Kasich.

However, there is a big problem with this theory – not nearly enough Republican voters are casting ballots for him in the primaries and caucuses.

Every day, it looks more and more like Donald Trump, who ran a campaign based on media-generated excitement and passionate hatred by millions of Americans of the establishment of both parties, will fall short in his quest for 1,237 delegates – the number needed to win on the first ballot at the party's convention in July at Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena.

The Morning Consult, a non-partisan technology and media company that tracks polling in the presidential race, came out last week with an analysis that showed that of the three remaining GOP candidates – Trump, Kasich and Ted Cruz – only Kasich would win the Electoral College vote if it were taken today.

A candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win the presidency; Morning Consult's analysis had Kasich at 304. The other two fell far short of Clinton – Trump at 210 electoral votes, and Cruz with just 206.

But the fact is, as it stands today, Kasich is bringing up the rear in terms of the number of delegates pledged to him – which means that, at a contested, multi-ballot convention in Cleveland, he would have to find a way to cajole a massive number of delegates to switch to him based on his "electability."

But Kasich is far behind in the game.

According to RealClearPolitics.com, Kasich's present delegate count stands at 143, while Trump has 755 and Cruz has 545. Even Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who withdrew from the race after losing his home state to Trump on March 15, has more pledged delegates than Kasich with 171.

And the fact is this – so far, Kasich has won but one state – Ohio, which gained him the state's entire delegation of 66.

"Part of the problem is how well Kasich can do in gathering delegates,'' said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst with the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "If he doesn't perform well in the latter stages of this race, does he go into Cleveland with any more of a claim on the nomination than anyone else? It's hard to imagine."

At Cleveland, the rules for delegates vary by state. Many members state delegations are pledged to the candidate they represent only on the first ballot. Many are free to switch horses on a second or a third ballot.

Right now, it is widely assumed that if Trump does not lock this down in the remaining primaries and goes to a convention short of 1,237 delegates, he can't win in a multi-ballot convention.

And, for now, the advantage would seem to lie with Cruz.

"Cruz has played this extraordinarily savvy in the long game,'' said Mack Mariani, associate professor and chair of the political science department at Xavier University.

At the Cleveland convention, Mariani said, if it goes to multiple ballots, Cruz would likely have a big advantage.

"These delegates at this convention are not going to be looking for a political insider; by and large, they are going to be looking for a political outsider," Mariani said. "That's not John Kasich. That's not the campaign that he has run."

Trump, Mariani said, "is the ultimate outsider. Cruz is somewhere in the middle. I could see, in multiple ballots, Cruz picking up support from both the Trump camp and the Kasich camp."

Neither Kondik nor Mariani put much stock in the polls showing Kasich winning a general election against Clinton – or in polls showing Democratic contender Bernie Sanders doing well against all three of the GOP candidates in head-to-head match-ups.

"I think the horse race numbers for both Kasich and Sanders are inflated,'' Kondik said. "The fact is, most people don't know either of them that well."

Mariani said he doesn't buy it either.

"Hillary might look more beatable now, but Kasich just isn't that well known," Mariani said. "They don't really know him."

There are 16 primaries left between now and the end of the primary season on June 7. The next one is in New York on Tuesday; and a week later, Pennsylvania – Kasich's home state; his Super PAC, New Day for America, is running ads there touting his Pennsylvania roots.

Nine of those states are winner-take-all. In most of the rest, the delegates are awarded proportionately.

In all of the big states left on the table, Kasich trails far behind Trump and trails Cruz too.

But, if Kasich is going to make an argument at a contested convention that he is electable, he is going to have to show that Republican voters who live somewhere other than in the state he governs support him.

"If he wins some states, that would show he is something more than a favorite son candidate,'' Kondik said. "He has to show that he has some kind of momentum.

"This is going to be a conservative crowd in Cleveland,'' Kondik said. "I just wonder if Kasich would have been better off running a more traditional conservative style campaign."

Kasich has run a moderate, let's-all-get-along, I'm-the-grown-up-in-the-room kind of campaign that probably turns off the anti-establishment crowd that will gather in Cleveland in July.

And, in that environment, polls showing him beating Hillary Clinton may not carry much weight.