Stop the presses! Rip up the front page! News flash!
The Ohio Republican Party’s central committee endorsed Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the March 15 GOP presidential primary Friday on a 44-9 vote.
What? You are not stunned by this news?
That’s OK. No one else was either.
Some Republicans around the state were grumbling about it, believing that the state party has no business butting into a presidential primary campaign.
But, after all, Kasich re-created the Ohio Republican Party when he was first elected governor in 2010, pushing aside then-state GOP chairman Kevin DeWine and making sure he was replaced by GOP political operative Matt Borges, a Kasich loyalist.
And, ever since, the Ohio Republican Party’s machinery has been at the disposal of the governor, both as a candidate for re-election in 2014 and, now, as a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.
“John Kasich won re-election last year with 64 percent of the vote and has a current approval rating of 62 percent here,” Borges said in a written statement. “If Republicans want to win the White House, we must carry Ohio and no one is going to come close to beating John Kasich in our battleground state.”
Well, maybe so, maybe no.
There’s not a whole lot of empirical evidence out there. What there is does not even suggest that Kasich is a lock to win a GOP primary in Ohio.
The last independent poll of Ohio GOP voters was done in early October by Quinnipiac University. It had Kasich, despite his high approval rating, running third with 13 percentage points, behind Donald Trump (23 percent) and Ben Carson (18 percent).
Now, things may have changed considerably since then. We’ll see.
But it was certainly no surprise that a majority of the GOP central committee would endorse Kasich in the GOP primary where no less than 12 Republican presidential candidates have qualified for the ballot.
No surprise, but it is not the kind of thing state parties usually do in a presidential primary, even when they have a favorite son or daughter candidate in the hunt.
Florida has two candidates in the race – former governor Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio – and you can be assured there will be no endorsement by the Florida GOP. Texas has Ted Cruz, but there’s no chance the GOP in the Lone Star State will endorse him.
Only the New Jersey GOP has endorsed its candidate, Gov. Chris Christie.
If Kasich were to win the Ohio primary, he would walk away with all 66 of Ohio’s delegates to the Republican National Convention, which will be held July 18-21 at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena.
Ohio’s GOP primary will be a winner-take-all affair, with the top vote-getter statewide taking all the delegates. Last fall, Kasich’s friends in the GOP-controlled Ohio General Assembly made sure that would be the case when they voted to move the primary from March 8 to March 15.
Why?, you might ask. Well, the Republican National Committee has a rule which says that states with primaries held before March 15 must distribute their delegates on a proportional basis – no winner-take-all. All primaries on or after March 15 are winner-take-all.
As you might imagine, the governor was happy to sign this legislation into law.
Now, the question will be this: Will John Kasich be a viable candidate for the presidential nomination by the time the March 15 primary rolls around?
The New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9 likely holds the answer to that question.
“By his own admission, (Kasich) has said he’s not going to drag this thing out if he doesn’t do well in New Hampshire,” said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics and managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a widely-read weekly publication that tracks state and national politics.
“He has to finish in the top three, or, better, the top two in New Hampshire,’’ Kondik said. “Candidates like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie are in the same boat as Kasich. This is the big test for them.”
New Hampshire is where Kasich has been spending the bulk of his time and money – money from his campaign fund and from his Super PAC, New Day for America.
Kasich has said that he needs to win or finish strong in New Hampshire in order to keep going; and there is some evidence that the millions of dollars spent there on his behalf have started to move the needle for him.
Public Policy Polling (PPP), a North Carolina firm, came out with a poll last Wednesday that showed Kasich is now in double-figures with 11 percent support, tied for third place with Christie. But he is still miles behind the front-runner, Donald Trump, who took 29 percent, with Rubio at 15 percent.
Kondik said that, after New Hampshire, it is likely that two of four candidates will probably have to get out of the race – Bush, Christie, Kasich or Rubio.
The one troubling number for Kasich in that Quinnipiac poll was that only 34 percent of those Republicans polled said they are firmly committed to voting for the Ohio governor on Feb. 9.
The PPP pollsters concluded that if you look at the race in New Hampshire just among those who say their minds are totally made up, Kasich comes in sixth, with only 7 percent support.
This explains why Kasich is having many days like he had Friday in New Hampshire – a day that started with a town hall meeting in Stratham at 10:30 a.m., another town hall in Hampton at 12:30 p.m., a “meet and greet” with New Hampshire fishermen at Yankee Fisherman’s Co-Op in Seabrook at 3 p.m. and a 5:15 p.m. town hall meeting in Exeter.
Because of the polls – particularly the national polls – Kasich is teetering on the brink of possibly not making the main stage for the Fox Business News Network’s Republican debate next Thursday in South Carolina, an early primary state. We’re guessing he will, based on his current poll numbers in New Hampshire.
It appears that the network will have six or seven candidates who qualify; and they will have to finish in the top six in an average of recent national polls or in the top five in an average of poll from Iowa or New Hampshire. It’s not clear which polls the network will use, but Kasich needs to make the cut. He can’t afford to be on the outside looking in.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, Kasich does well in New Hampshire on Feb. 9 – meaning a first or second place finish.
“He can’t just do well in New Hampshire and then fall off the map for a month until Ohio rolls around,’’ said Kondik, who is finishing a book on the history of presidential elections in Ohio.
He is not the kind of social conservative candidate who is likely to be strong in places like South Carolina and Nevada, both of which come after New Hampshire. And his campaign has pretty low expectations for the Iowa caucuses, which take place on Feb. 2.
“Kasich’s chances of doing well on March 1 are in states like Vermont and Massachusetts, or even Virginia, where a moderate conservative type can do well,’’ Kondik said. “There are opportunities for him before Ohio.”
But, to do that, he needs to see candidates like Bush and Christie drop out of the race; and leave the GOP mainstream to him.
A strong finish in New Hampshire could mean the GOP money people – the ones who want to stop candidates like Trump or Cruz at all costs – could start pouring money into Kasich’s campaign.
And that could keep him rolling right on until the race for the GOP nomination comes back home to Ohio, where the Ohio Republican Party machinery will be waiting to help him score a home court victory.
Then, they will have visions in their heads of their own leader accepting the GOP presidential nomination in July, in his home state.
That’s the way the Ohio GOP leadership would like to see it play out.
We’ll have to wait to see if dreams really do come true.