We don’t know about your family, but, at our house, when Thanksgiving came around, there were two tables set up for the family feast.
One for the grown-ups – the big fancy table. Another off to the side – usually a card table with a tablecloth thrown over it – for the kiddies.
It was OK, except the mashed potatoes tended to get cold by the time they made it to the card table.
That’s sort of the way Thursday’s Fox News debate among the small army of Republicans who want the GOP presidential nomination will work – the first such gathering of the 2016 presidential campaign season.
And Ohio’s governor, John Kasich, one of a field of now 17 GOP candidates (former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore jumped in Thursday), needs to be at the “big people’s table.”
Tuesday night, Fox News is going to take the average of five national polls and invite the top 10 candidates – maybe the top 11, if there is a tie – to a 9 p.m., 90-minute, prime time debate on a stage at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. And Quicken Loans Arena just happens to be the site of the 2016 Republican National Convention, where the presidential nominee and running mate will be crowned.
The candidates who don’t make the cut, Fox News says, will be invited to a one-hour debate at 5 p.m. – when there will be a whole lot fewer people watching.
Fox News says it will take the average of the five latest national polls at the end of the day Tuesday – although it is not exactly clear which polls the network will be using.
As of now, there are indications that Kasich, who announced his candidacy formally on July 21, will make the cut – just barely.
On Friday, the Real Clear Politics website had Kasich finishing 9th in an average of the sixth most recent national polls, with 3.5 percent support. Donald Trump led the pack with nearly 21 percent support; and there is some fear among other campaigns that the outspoken Trump will suck all the air out of the room at Quicken Loans Arena Thursday night with his rhetoric.
“It’s on Kasich's home turf, in his home state, and he needs to be there,’’ said political scientist Gene Beaupre, the director of government relations at Xavier University. “If he doesn’t make it, it’s one of those lines that gets written into every news story about him. And that doesn’t project him as a winner.”
The debate, Beaupre said, is not so much for the voters “who aren’t paying that much attention yet. It’s really for the potential donors out there and the people who are looking to join one campaign organization or another.”
Chris Schrimpf, a spokesman for Kasich’s campaign committee, told WVXU Kasich’s campaign is “working under the assumption that the governor will be in the prime time debate.”
Kasich has been preparing for the debate, Schrimpf said, “focusing on using what time he will have on telling his story.”
It’s likely, Schrimpf said, that each candidate on the stage for the prime time debate will have only six to eight minutes to make his or her points.
Schrimpf said that while Kasich expects to be in the top 10, the debate is not the be-all and end-all of the Kasich campaign.
“The debate, it’s nice to be there, but it’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t happen.”
Doing well in the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire is “more important,” Schrimpf said.
Kasich is banking on a first-place finish in the Granite State – or a very strong finish – to give his campaign the momentum to be a first-tier candidate as the primary and caucus season grinds on next winter and spring.
That’s why he spent all day there Friday; and will spend the day campaigning in New Hampshire on Monday.
Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said that it is “so far, so good” for Kasich and his New Hampshire strategy. A poll last week of New Hampshire Republicans showed Kasich in third place. He had only seven percent support, but that was a considerable bump from the one or two percent he had at the time of his announcement.
“I’m pretty sure Kasich will make the cut on the prime time debate,’’ said Kondik, who is writing a book on the history of presidential elections in Ohio. “A lot of candidates get a bump after they make their official announcements and Kasich did. And he gained some headway from early TV ads in New Hampshire.”
Once he gets on the stage, Kondik said, he will have to use his time wisely and try to make an impression.
“If there is only one question asked of Kasich it would be about accepting Medicaid expansion under Obamacare,” Kondik said. “If he says that people who don’t support this aren’t Christian enough, that’s not going to go over very well.”
But being on the big stage gives Kasich a chance to break through the clutter and make an impression on a national audience, Kondik said.
Now, it is just a matter of whether or not Kasich is invited to the grown-ups’ table or the kiddies’ table.