Berea, Ohio — “We’re gonna go all the way to Cleveland and secure the Republican nomination,” a beaming John Kasich proclaimed Tuesday night after winning his home state of Ohio and its 66 delegates, his first win of the primary season.
On Tuesday night, “all the way to Cleveland” was a distance of just 15 miles from where Kasich stood reveling in his victory over Donald Trump. Four months, 19 states, and more than 1,000 delegates stand between the candidates and the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July. But for Kasich, his narrow path to the nomination may as well take him straight there.
Tuesday night was Kasich’s moment of glory. The question is: Can he build on his home-state victory, which earned him a spot among the final three GOP candidates, and keep himself in contention until the campaign returns to his home state in July?
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It is impossible, at this point, for Kasich to secure the 1,237 delegates necessary to win the nomination on the first ballot at the convention. His path to the nomination is a prayer that no candidate arrives at the convention with a majority of delegates, and that he can then win a sufficient number of delegates on a subsequent ballot to grab the nomination. This is a reality he acknowledges.
“I may go to the convention with more delegates than any of them. But probably not enough to win,” he told reporters Monday.
The Kasich campaign is putting stock not just in how many delegates he will have when he arrives at the convention, but in the story those delegates will tell about his electability in a general election.
There is worry within the party about the ramifications of wresting the nomination away from the vote leader at the convention.
“It’s not just the numbers, but when we won them, and where we won them, and what they say about his ability to beat Hillary Clinton,” says Kasich adviser Tom Rath. Kasich backers see that as his great strength: Unlike the other two remaining candidates on the Republican side, he has proven he can win Ohio, a swing state, and current polls show him able to beat Clinton in a general election. Kasich backers are counting on delegates to take that into account at the convention.
For Kasich to get to that point, however, Trump — who remains the clear frontrunner after wins tonight in Florida, Illinois, and North Carolina, and a strong showing in still-uncalled Missouri — must be prevented from securing enough delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot.
“You’ve got to get this thing to a second ballot,” says former congressman and National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Tom Davis, who is backing Kasich. “Delegates at that point become a little less emotional and more thoughtful about who wins,” he adds.
There is worry within the party about the ramifications of wresting the nomination away from the vote leader at the convention. But as each new attempt to stop Trump fails, some Republicans who oppose him have come to see a contested convention as perhaps the best option.
“I think it would be a blessing for Republicans to have a big fight and pick a new, different candidate,” says major Republican donor Stan Hubbard, who previously donated to a number of candidates, including Kasich. Hubbard says he vigorously opposes Trump.
#share#Kasich’s campaign has set some wheels in motion to maneuver for a contested convention. A former senior adviser to Kasich, Jai Chabria, is now the state party’s point person or the convention. Cory Crowley, a consultant who had previously concentrated on Kasich’s strategy in caucus states, will now be largely focused on state conventions, where many delegates will be chosen. Crowley has some experience in this area: In 2014 he helped now-congressman David Young secure the nomination at the convention in Iowa’s third district. Young won on the fourth ballot, after coming in fifth in the primary.
But with just one win so far, Kasich still has to prove himself. He is scheduled to “hitch up the covered wagon” (his words) tomorrow and head to neighboring Pennsylvania, where his campaign sees an opportunity for him to do well — assuming he remains on the ballot after a legal challenge filed by a Rubio supporter. After that, he goes to Utah, a state with a history of electing moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats. With Rubio out of the race, Kasich backers see an opening for their candidate. Beyond that, Kasich said on Monday, he expects to “be able to do well” in Maryland, New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey.
Kasich’s campaign has set some wheels in motion to maneuver for a contested convention.
There’s reason for a large dose of skepticism. Kasich remains in last place in the delegate race, trailing Rubio, who ended his candidacy after losing Florida on Tuesday. It is impossible for him to win a majority of delegates before the convention. His win in Ohio was helped along by the state-party apparatus, which turned itself into the de facto Kasich campaign organization, an advantage he won’t have outside his home state. And despite his insistence on CNN Tuesday that “we have all the money we need,” he has trailed other campaigns in fundraising.
That is perhaps why, despite his decisive win on Tuesday night, many in the political class continue to discount him.
This has been a conundrum all along for the Ohio governor, who lamented in his victory speech that he had “labored in obscurity for so long, people counting me out.” Indeed, it was not long after his second-place finish in New Hampshire that the campaigns of some of the candidates he bested there began calling for him to exit the race, saying that despite the New Hampshire results, he had no path to the nomination, and accusing him of soaking up votes that might otherwise go to Rubio.
His next major opportunity to put points on the board was not for a full month — Tuesday’s contest in Ohio — and the battle to stay a part of the story in order to preserve his momentum was necessarily almost as big a concern as winning delegates.
#related#But Kasich’s victory in Ohio, says Rath, will have the effect of “changing the narrative that all we are is somebody that slows the train down.” It shows, he says, “we’re not in this to be a spoiler, we’re in this to win the nomination.” And since he is one of just three remaining candidates — and perhaps the last remaining hope for establishment-minded Republicans — Rath says he expects Kasich to have no problem staying in the news.
The campaign already made some improvements in the weeks between New Hampshire and Ohio. At Kasich’s 100th town hall in New Hampshire in February, the campaign celebrated with a confetti cannon. After the event, according to a Kasich staffer, the governor complained that the cannon was too weak in firing confetti. So on Tuesday, when Kasich wrapped up his victory speech, confetti exploded into the air at high velocity. In response to Kasich’s complaints, the staffer said, his staff had decided that, this time, they would “bury him” in confetti.
— Alexis Levinson is the senior political reporter for National Review.
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