Yes, the Quinnipiac University Poll that came out this week – known in political circles as the Q-Poll – showed Ohio Gov. John Kasich leading Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton by seven percentage points in Ohio, a key battleground state.
Well, that’s interesting, but it was not the worst news for Clinton in the Q-Poll of three key swing states – Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.
First of all, Kasich is still something of a long-shot to win the Republican presidential nomination. It’s certainly not out of the question, but a would-be candidate who is running between one and three percentage points support in national and early primary/caucus states could hardly be considered a front-runner.
So a seven-point disadvantage in Ohio a little more than 16 months before the 2016 presidential election is really nothing for Clinton to lose sleep over.
But this might be: The same Q-Poll showed that, in all three swing states, a majority of voters said they do not think the former secretary of state and senator from New York is “honest and trustworthy.” The numbers are pretty striking: 53 to 40 percent in Ohio, 51 to 43 percent in Florida, 54 to 40 percent in Pennsylvania.
Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Q-Poll, said most of the eight Republicans included in the swing state poll are “within striking distance” of Clinton in at least one of the three swing states, with Kasich leading her and Kentucky’s Rand Paul running dead even with her in Ohio. Most have made up ground against Clinton since the last Q-Poll in March.
“But perhaps more troubling for her than the continuing slide is how she is perceived by voters who continue to say she is not honest and trustworthy,’’ Brown said.
But, wait, it gets worse.
The poll showed that in Ohio, voters are split dead even – 48 percent each way – when asked if they believe Hillary Clinton cares "about the needs of people like you or not?”
“This is where Democrats almost always fare better than Republicans,’’ Brown said. “Yet in this survey many Republican candidate do as well or better than does she.”
Kasich certainly does better. When the “cares about people like me” question was asked of Ohio voters 58 percent said yes and 34 percent said no.
Mack Mariani, associate professor and chair of the political science department at Xavier University, said Democrats should be deeply troubled by these numbers.
“The honesty/trustworthy numbers are simply awful,’’ Mariani said. “Even more importantly though is that she scores quite poorly on the ‘cares about people like me’ question.”
In the 2012 presidential election, Mariani said, GOP nominee Mitt Romney edged President Obama on the “honesty and leadership” question, but was “absolutely slaughtered on the ‘cares about people like me’ question.”
“Hillary’s struggles on that question suggest that the issues surrounding the Clinton finances, lifestyle and speech fees continue to be an issue for her,’’ Mariani said.
But a lot of the same people in these three swing states who told the Q-Poll they didn’t find her trustworthy or that she cares about people like them told the pollsters that they would vote for her in the general election, Mariani said.
Kasich is looking pretty good on those questions now, Mariani said, but he has yet to formally announce his candidacy; and once he becomes a real candidate, that could change.
“You don’t know what Kasich looks like after 10 months or so of negative advertising aimed at him,’’ Mariani said.
Maybe he weathers it well. Maybe his favorable numbers slip. Who knows? It’s a crowded field; and it’s going to come down to the survival of the fittest.
It’s expected that Kasich will formally announce his candidacy by mid-July, if not sooner.
On Wednesday of last week, he made his fifth visit to New Hampshire, the “first in the nation” primary state; and it would make a lot of sense for Kasich to concentrate principally on that state.
A strong showing – or, better yet, a win – in the Granite State would obviously propel him into the top tier of candidates. He is not even close now. He barely registers in polling in New Hampshire and other early primary and caucus states. But that can change quickly, with organization and money. Especially money.
To some, former Florida governor Jeb Bush is the front-runner for the GOP nomination. But Mariani said he thinks Bush has to win a primary or primaries before the race gets to Florida on March 15. And even in his home state, he has formidable competition from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
“If Bush finishes third or fourth in New Hampshire and Kasich does well, that changes the picture,’’ Mariani said. “And Kasich could have some considerable appeal in a place like New Hampshire – a fiscal conservative, socially moderate.”
“This is a big field, so there are only a few top-tier candidates,’’ Mariani said. “I think Bush and (Wisconsin Gov. Scott) Walker are clearly the front-runners, with Rubio and Paul the second tier. The problem that Kasich faces, I think, is that as some of the other lower tier candidates start to drop out, I don’t see much of their votes going to Kasich – other than maybe (South Carolina Sen.) Lindsey Graham’s and (New Jersey Gov.) Chris Christie’s, but that’s not a large percentage.”
If Bush collapse early, Mariani said, “Rubio is a good position to win Florida and I think then you are looking at a Walker-Rubio – and possibly Paul too – match-up going forward from here. So (Kasich) needs to be in a position to fill the vacuum left by Bush’s absence.”
If those stars align in Kasich’s favor, the Q-Poll gives him an ace card to play. He can go out and say, I am the candidate who can beat Hillary in Ohio. And no Republican has ever been elected without winning Ohio.”
Pretty strong card, but he’ll have to hope the polling continues to swing his way in his home state.