The presidential candidate who isn’t a presidential candidate but will probably soon be a presidential candidate spent part of the past week in New Hampshire, the place where presidential candidacies go to either be born or die on the vine.
We’re talking John Kasich, the 69th governor of Ohio here.
The governor of a key swing state who has been racing around from one early primary or caucus state for months now, dropping big hints about wanting to be president, but always stopping short of announcing his candidacy.
It was only Thursday – in New Hampshire – where Kasich dropped his biggest hint yet.
According to CNN, he told a crowd of Republicans in New Hampshire, the first-in-the-nation primary state, that he didn’t get serious about running for president until he realized that former Florida governor Jeb Bush, the nominal front-runner (if there could be such a thing as a front-runner in the rugby scrum of real and potential GOP presidential candidates), was not a shoo-in for the nomination.
“Frankly, I thought Jeb was going to just suck all the air out of the room and it just hasn’t happened,’’ Kasich said. “No hit on Jeb – not hit on you, Jeb!”
Bush has said he will formally announce his candidacy on June 15 in Miami. No less than 10 Republicans have already formally announced; and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal says he plans to do so on June 24.
Kasich has a speech planned for that day before the Greater Des Moines Partnership – yes, that would be in Iowa, the first caucus state. But, as of now, anyway, there’s nothing from Kasich on a date for a formal announcement. The speculation is that it will be in late June or early July.
It had probably better be sooner rather than later. As the number of GOP candidates mount, the rain-makers in the campaign finance field and the top tier campaign staff people will be snapped up by other candidates.
Mack Mariani, associate professor of political science at Xavier University, agrees that sooner is better than later for Kasich’s chances.
“He’s got a good story to tell, but when you have so many people talking at once and the money going elsewhere, it’s going to be hard to get your message out,’’ Mariani said.
Kasich is right, Mariani said, if he thinks that Bush stumbling as a candidate or even being forced to drop out, it would be good for Kasich as a mainstream GOP alternative – one who has executive experience and a record as a leader in Congress in the 1990s.
“If Bush, for whatever reason, stumbled or dropped out; or the early primary and caucus voters decide they just don’t want another Bush, the Republican establishment is going to be looking for an alternative,’’ Mariani said.
Even so, Mariani said, “it’s hard to see a path for Gov. Kasich,’’ Mariani said. “On paper, he is everything you’d want in a candidate. But it will be tough to break through.”
The best thing Kasich has going for him is the state he governs. Ohio will be, as it always seems to be, a key battleground state. And it is a state where Kasich won re-election last year with nearly 64 percent of the vote.
Ohio’s junior U.S. Senator, Rob Portman of Terrace Park, was said to be considering a run for the GOP presidential nomination himself, but decided instead to run for re-election to the Senate in 2016.
Thursday, on a conference call with Ohio reporters, Portman had high praise for Kasich as a presidential candidate, but stopped well short of endorsing his fellow Ohio Republican.
“I know he’s trying to make that decision now and, having been through it myself, it’s not an easy decision,’’ Portman said.
“I think he’s got a terrific story to tell about what he has done in Ohio,’’ Portman said. “The record in Ohio is the key thing.”
Ohio, Portman said, was 48th in the nation in job creation when Kasich took over in 2011 from Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland who “had left Ohio in a terrible situation.”
The reference to Strickland was no surprise – Strickland is now the leading contender to run against Portman for the Senate next fall.
Kasich, Portman said, “has a story to tell about how he can bring Ohio’s record to Washington and turn things around. So I think he’ll be a very strong candidate.”
Then came the “however.”
“I’m running (for re-election) myself in 2016 and I’m not planning on getting into the endorsement game,’’ Portman said. “I’ve got a lot of friends who are running, but I’m just saying that John Kasich would be a really strong candidate.”
As you might imagine, the Ohio Democratic Party is not so sanguine about Kasich’s presidential ambitions.
While Kasich was in New Hampshire, Ohio Democratic Party chairman David Pepper put out a written statement saying that while Ohio “is in its 30th straight month of lagging the country in job growth” and the state faces a myriad of other problems, “Kasich is 800 miles away.”
“Once again, he’s taking a break from the job Ohio taxpayers are paying him to do and playing presidential contender in New Hampshire,’’ Pepper said. “It’s just another step on the long road to Kasich not winning the White House.”
But potshots from Democrats are the least of Kasich’s problems as he inches closer to a presidential run.
The real problem is that he barely registers in the polling of GOP voters’ preference for president – either the nationally polling or the polling in key states such as New Hampshire or Iowa. He hovers around one, two or three percent support in most of them.
It’s early, you say. Indeed it is. But here’s the problem:
On Aug. 6, the FOX News Channel and Facebook, with the help of the Ohio Republican Party, will host the first Republican presidential candidate debate at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland – which also happens to be the venue for next summer’s GOP presidential nominating convention.
According to FOX News, to qualify for the debate a candidate must be an announced and official candidate and “must place in the top 10 of an average of the five most recent national polls, as recognized by FOX
News leading up to August 4 at 5 p.m. Such polling must be conducted by major, nationally recognized organizations that use standard methodological techniques.”
The problem is that, as of now, Kasich wouldn’t qualify for the debate. He wouldn’t make the top 10.
Theoretically, he could jump up the charts over the next month and break the top 10, but he would also need to officially declare and file all the necessary paperwork with the Federal Election Commission.
So, if he wants to be on that stage at Quicken Loans Arena Aug. 6, he had better get crackin’.
Starting a presidential campaign by not being invited to a nationally-televised debate in your home state is not the ideal way to kick off a campaign.