Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s strategy is honing in on taking out Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) even as the anti-Trump wing is eager for the governor to drop out of the presidential race.
Kasich came in last place at the Nevada caucuses on Tuesday, but you’d never know it by the optimistic tone his campaign struck as they came out swinging the next morning.
Early Wednesday, the campaign touted a just-released Quinnipiac poll “as a stark reminder for Republicans who want to win the White House that Governor Kasich is far and away the best candidate to carry Ohio in November” — topping Hillary Clinton 54-37 percent in a head-to-head matchup in Ohio and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) 54-35 percent.
The campaign filled the governor’s schedule with stops during the week in Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee.
They launched a large ad buy in Vermont talking of the governor’s “hard scrabble life in a rusty steel town” and a Massachusetts ad stating “over 400,000 new jobs have been created through his leadership.”
“The Republican primary is now a four-person race and there is only one candidate who is capable of beating Hillary in November,” Kasich’s chief strategist John Weaver declared. “John Kasich has made a career out of winning elections no one expects him to win, and this year is no different.”
He picked up endorsements from Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, moderate Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) and former Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio), and former Reagan White House Communications Director Frank Ursomarso signed on to co-chair his Delaware campaign. He announced the expansion of leadership teams in other upcoming states and Puerto Rico and opened new field offices.
All between getting 3.6 percent of the vote in Nevada and Thursday night’s GOP debate in Houston.
On the eve of the debate, Kasich’s campaign pointed to a Washington Post delegate analysis that noted “it’s not clear whether Kasich can beat Trump in the Buckeye State or if he will be able to stay in the race all the way until March 15 when Ohio voters go to the polls. But, if Kasich could beat Trump in Ohio, you subtract 66 delegates from Trump’s 1,246 — leaving him at 1,180, and just short of the nomination.”
Kasich’s “path to the White House has crystalized,” his campaign asserted.
After the debate, they fired at Rubio.
“Senator Rubio, who has said Florida is a must-win state for him, trails Donald Trump there by 16 points. Tonight, we saw the Rubio campaign shift its strategy yet again. This time, Senator Rubio decided to attack Donald Trump. It’s clear Senator Rubio’s own campaign knows his time is running out. It’s time for Rubio to start rethinking his place in the race—or if he has a place in it at all,” Kasich’s campaign manager, Beth Hansen, said after the debate.
“Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio need major wins on March 1 and March 5 to justify staying in the race, while Governor Kasich only sees a political map that increasingly shifts his way. We expect to earn some delegates on March 1 and after that further ramp up our focus on Michigan with a week-long statewide bus tour there. We will also continue growing our solid presence in Idaho—where Governor Butch Otter just endorsed Governor Kasich—and Mississippi, where we will surprise a lot of people. After that, it’s on to winner-take-all Ohio and other Midwestern states where we expect to do well,” Hansen continued.
“The governor’s strategy since his announcement in July has been to build steadily and incrementally, with a broad footprint and a positive message. With our increasingly strong support and endorsements, that strategy is succeeding.”
Close to midnight, the campaign sent out a PPP poll showing Trump with a sizable lead in Florida.
“Marco Rubio isn’t going to win Florida and can’t stop Donald Trump,” Weaver said. “He needs to withdraw from the race.”
As Trump was announcing his endorsement from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie today, Kasich was announcing an endorsement from former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman. President Obama’s former secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, also threw his backing behind the Ohio governor.
Kasich’s campaign expanded his pre-Super Tuesday schedule today, adding trips to Massachusetts and Vermont, and Michigan events after Tuesday.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who ran for the nomination before dropping out and endorsing Jeb Bush who has now also dropped out, told CNN that the field needs to consolidate.
“Kasich-Rubio would be the most winning ticket, I think. Rubio/Kasich would be second. If Cruz joins up with Rubio or Kasich, it would be problematic, but would probably work,” Graham said.
“The one thing that’s going to happen, if you don’t do something… is that Trump is going to win the Republican nomination. He’s going to get creamed in the general election.”