Bedford, N.H. — “Who’s here from Ohio?” the chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, Matt Borges, asked the crowd. Of the 70 people present — sprawled on chairs, spread on the floor, or leaning against the back walls of the Nashua offices of the super PAC supporting John Kasich — 69 raised their hands.
“Who’s here local?” Borges asked.
A lone hand shot up.
This is part of the army of approximately 300 Ohioans who took planes, trains, and automobiles from Ohio to New Hampshire to help Kasich, the governor of Ohio, muscle his way to a strong finish in the Granite State’s primary on Tuesday night. The force is testament to the effort Kasich has put in to the first-in-the-nation primary state, but it also showcases the level of enthusiasm for Kasich in his home state of Ohio, which is likely to make him a key player whether or not he becomes the party’s nominee.
Kasich boasts a 62 percent approval rating in Ohio, according to an October Gallup poll, putting him in a position to throw his weight around over the course of the presidential race if he’s not the nominee. In the general election, his popularity could help the Republican candidate effectively combat a strong Democratic ground game. If he’s no longer in the race by the March 15 Ohio primary, he is positioned to put his thumb on the scale to help or hurt one of the surviving candidates. And if the Republican primary contest somehow rages on through the convention in Cleveland, Kasich, the home-state governor, could be a powerful force.
“Governor Kasich has proven he can win big here, he’s wildly popular and can make a difference all the way through November in Ohio.”
“Governor Kasich has proven he can win big here, he’s wildly popular and can make a difference all the way through November in Ohio,” says Ohio representative Steve Stivers, who has backed Kasich. Not every member of the delegation has backed him, but none have endorsed against him. Stivers, along with fellow Ohio lawmakers Representative Pat Tiberi and Senator Rob Portman, was in New Hampshire campaigning for Kasich at the end of last month.
Others view Kasich’s support, and his influence, as a surefire way for the Republican nominee to carry the crucial swing state. “Republicans are not going to win the presidency without Ohio and Florida. That’s a fact: I don’t see any other way to it given the way the Electoral College comes down,” says former Virginia congressman and former National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Tom Davis, who is backing Kasich.
#share#Kasich has already wielded his influence in Ohio to affect the 2016 campaign. Last year, state lawmakers voted for, and Kasich signed, a bill to move Ohio’s presidential primary to March 15, the day states begin allotting delegates in so-called winner-take-all primaries. (In the contests that come beforehand, delegates are allotted proportionally to the top three vote-getters.) And, later in the year, the Ohio GOP made it official when it voted to allocate all of the state’s 66 Republican delegates to the winner of the state’s primary.
The Ohio primary falls on the same day as the Florida primary, and if Kasich is no longer in the race, it could be a crucial state for a candidate looking to counter the advantage that Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush, as hometown favorites, could have in Florida.
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Some, Borges chief among them, say they can already see some candidates treating Kasich with kid gloves, wary of the influence he might wield down the road. Many campaigns were frustrated, for example, when Ohio became winner-take-all, but Borges says it was he who got the brunt of the anger despite the fact that it was Kasich who had instigated the decision. “I got all these ‘we’re disappointed in you’ messages from the Bush campaign,” he says. “But they weren’t disappointed in John Kasich; they were disappointed in me.”
Borges says he’s noticed other candidates’ being “a little bit hands-off toward Kasich because they know they’re going to need him” one way or the other. And Borges has happily encouraged such behavior. “I told them all to stay out, don’t come to Ohio, don’t campaign in Ohio, don’t waste your time.”
“I talked to Donald Trump personally about that: ‘Don’t attack John Kasich in Ohio,’” Borges recounts, adding that even Trump said he’d take it under advisement.
#related#As for Kasich’s future as a candidate, he and his team have made it clear that it all hinges on his performance here in New Hampshire. He has openly struck down speculation that he could be chosen as a running mate, though the geographical desirability of Ohio will undoubtedly keep him in contention.
“I’d be the worst vice president anybody could ever imagine,” he told CNN on Friday. “I’d be worse than Biden. Because I’m my own man. Not going to take orders from these people, it’s not what I do, it’s not who I am. I’m basically an unrelenting agent of change. . . . No, I have no interest in that. I’m running for president.”
If that doesn’t pan out, he’s likely to be seeing a lot of the man who emerges victorious.
— Alexis Levinson is the senior political reporter for National Review.