Standing in a high school gymnasium in his suburban Columbus hometown hours before the polls opened on Monday, Governor John Kasich asked his fellow Ohioans to vote for him “so I can continue to run for president of the United States.” They did.
Kasich defeated Republican front-runner Donald Trump in Ohio on Tuesday, hurting the billionaire’s ability to win enough delegates for the party’s nomination and allowing the governor to stay in a race that he now thinks will be reset in his favor.
“We are going go all the way to Cleveland and secure the Republican nomination,” Kasich said during a victory event on Tuesday night in Berea in suburban Cleveland, where the Republican Party will meet in about four months to select its nominee.
Kasich is making the case that his Ohio victory, especially combined with Florida Senator Marco Rubio quitting the race after losing his home state to Trump on Tuesday, will be a springboard for performing well in upcoming state contests and collecting enough delegates to compete for the nomination at a contested convention.
While it’s an accomplishment for Kasich to outlast the other eight governors who ran, his challenge will be showing that he can win more than just his home state after failing to be competitive in most previous contests that Trump has dominated, said Kevin Madden, a former adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign.
“There’s no ‘re-setting’ of the race,” Madden said. “It will be tough to go against the momentum that has built up.”
Kasich’s theory of the nomination fight going forward is that after “laboring in obscurity,” he’ll now get the attention, support and funding he needs. With Rubio out of the race, Kasich hopes to emerge as the clear alternative for party voters and donors who don’t want to nominate Trump or Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
“What he’s outlining is completely reasonable.” said David Winston, a Republican consultant who worked on Newt Gingrich’s 2012 presidential campaign.
While Cruz has been saying for days that it’s now a two- person race between he and Trump because neither Kasich nor Rubio has a realistic path to the nomination, the Ohio governor sees the upcoming election calendar favoring him on the eastern seaboard and in the Midwest, with more than half the delegates still to be awarded.
Kasich entered Tuesday’s voting a distant fourth in the delegate chase with 63, according to an Associated Press tracker. Trump led with 370, followed by Cruz with 370 and Rubio with 163.
Kasich said he’s on the ballot in every state where he can be, though he faces a challenge in Pennsylvania, where Rubio supporters filed a court petition saying he failed to garner the needed number of signatures to run in the state’s April 26 primary. Kasich supporters have called on Rubio to drop the challenge and insist they will prevail.
Kasich has already announced campaign events on Wednesday in suburban Philadelphia and on Friday in Utah, which has a primary on March 22.
“You will see me pick up speed and have momentum,” Kasich told reporters after an event Monday in Youngstown. “I may go to the convention with more delegates than any of them, but probably not enough to win. So we’ll see what happens.”
Now that Kasich has passed the home-state test, he faces another: building up his war chest for the next phase of the campaign. According to Federal Election Commission reports, the campaign had $1.5 million on hand as of Jan. 31.
Chief strategist John Weaver predicted Kasich will have the funding to compete everywhere, saying Kasich was making and receiving finance calls Tuesday night after his victory speech.
“We’re one of three candidates, we’re now raising more money than we’ve ever had, the financial resources are now not going to be the issue,” Weaver said. “We’re going to go into the convention with momentum.”
Still, Kasich’s Ohio win on Tuesday was his first in 26 contests, and in other races on Tuesday, he was on pace to finish fourth in Florida and third in Illinois, North Carolina and Missouri, according to initial Associated Press results.
The governor also had made similar predictions about gaining national attention and momentum if he performed well in the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary.
Kasich bet his campaign on the Granite State, spending months and holding more than 100 town-hall meetings there. But after placing second to Trump, his highest finishes after that were second in Vermont and Massachusetts on Super Tuesday.
Kasich, who had a 62 percent approval rating in October, pulled out all the stops to win over voters who have elected him to one term in the state legislature, nine terms in Congress, and two terms as governor. He traveled throughout Ohio in the final days of the campaign, aired television and radio ads, and relied on the state Republican Party to get voters to the polls.
New Day for America, the super PAC pushing Kasich, also said it had eight offices across the state with 28 paid staff members. Kasich supporters made 1.5 million paid calls to voters and knocked on more than 20,000 doors last weekend alone, spokeswoman Connie Wehrkamp said.
On Tuesday, 250 volunteers at polling locations across the state used public records to target Kasich supporters who had not yet voted, she said.
While Trump was criticizing Kasich as an “absentee governor” who backed trade deals that killed jobs, Kasich campaigned as an experienced manager with a record of results. He said he would bring a “shock and awe” program during his first 100 days in office if elected to deal with Social Security solvency and a host of other issues.
After harshly criticizing the immigration plans of Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson in October as a way to stand out in the crowded Republican field at the time, Kasich changed course and began presenting himself as the only candidate running a positive campaign and refusing to “wrestle in the mud.”
Kasich drew a loud ovations at his victory party when he vowed to refuse to take "the low road to the highest office in the land.”
Still, during events on Monday and in comments to reporters after voting on Tuesday, Kasich signaled that he will take a more aggressive posture against Trump. The Ohio governor said he had only recently become aware of the extent of Trump’s behavior and rhetoric after watching video on Friday of violence at his rallies and reading Trump quotes complied by a staff member.
“I will be, however, forced going forward to talk about some of the deep concerns I have about the way this campaign has been run by some others -- by one other, in particular,” Kasich said.
At his confetti-laced victory party in suburban, Kasich thanked his supporters for their faith in him as the crowd chanted “Kasich, Kasich” and “OH-IO.”
“We’ve got one more trip around Ohio this coming fall where we beat Hillary Clinton, and I will become president of the United States,” Kasich said.
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