Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s strong ground game, home-field advantage and unwavering positive message helped propel him to victory in Ohio, but political experts say he’ll need to boost his presence on the national stage to become more of a factor in the presidential race.
“He’s going to have to leverage this into fund-raising, and into more volunteers and more resources in upcoming states,” said Mark Caleb Smith, director of Cedarville University’s Center for Political Studies.
“It can’t be just, ‘I won Ohio.’ It has to be ‘I won Ohio and now I have more money to be competitive as we go along.’”
Mathematically Kasich cannot gain enough delegates to win the nomination outright, but in a brokered convention he can present himself as an electable alternative to billionaire Donald Trump or as a running mate who could make Trump more palatable to the broader Republican party, Smith said.
Even so, Smith believes Democratic front-runner, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, would “demolish” Trump in the General Election.
“I just don’t see Donald Trump as electable in the general election,” Smith said.
Those interviewed about Kasich’s big win said it was his positive message that most resonated with voters.
“He does come across as the only adult in the room. I think Midwesterners, especially people in Ohio, like that and they are proud of that” said Paul Leonard, adjunct political science professor at Wright State University.
The economy in Ohio also gave Kasich a boost, allowing him to trumpet big economic wins like the Fuyao Glass America Inc. plant in Moraine.
“American voters have a choice between a candidate who is positive, who has a record of accomplishment to govern to (a candidate who is) doom and gloom,” said Kasich delegate, State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg. “At the end of the day he has done a good job in Ohio and that’s why I think it resonated well here.”
But Kasich’s message didn’t play as well in Ohio counties where unemployment rates are highest. In fact, Trump won in 29 of the 36 Ohio counties with the highest unemployment rates in January, according to the most recent data available from the Ohio Bureau of Labor Market Information.
“I think John’s more optimistic approach about things probably doesn’t do well (in those counties) because they are not living that,” said retired U.S. Rep. David Hobson, a Republican and a Kasich delegate.
Trump’s promises about “making America great again” appeal to a segment of the population that is struggling economically, Hobson said.
“They’re looking at anything that looks different from where they are now,” he said. “So they think, ‘Kasich hasn’t done anything for me, maybe Trump will.’”
In some ways, the Ohio results mirrored what has happened elsewhere, although Ohio is the first state Kasich has won.
“If you look at the results Tuesday in Ohio, he still did these things: very well among voters with a high school education or less, not so well with voters with a college degree or post-graduate degree,” Smith said. “In fact, Kasich really cleaned him pretty thoroughly in those categories.”
A state map of Tuesday’s Ohio primary results shows Trump winning a backward C-shaped cluster of counties reaching from the northeastern-most county — Ashtabula — down through the economically struggling southeastern counties. A few of the more affluent counties, such as Clermont, also supported Trump.
Kasich won 55 of the state’s 88 counties, netting nearly 47 percent of the vote to Trump’s 36 percent. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz won 13 percent, according to final, unofficial results from the Ohio Secretary of State.
Of the nine counties in the Dayton/Springfield/Hamilton region, Kasich won all but Darke and Preble counties. They were two of the four counties — along with Clermont and Logan — that went for Trump even though their unemployment rates are under 6.9 percent.
Hobson, Smith and Leonard all pointed to Kasich’s strength in the “ground game” — the legions of volunteers, campaign offices, phone banks, emails, social media posts and sheer organizational effort — as being crucial for him on Tuesday.
“The Ohio Republican Party worked with Gov. Kasich’s campaign to coordinate a strong grassroots effort across the state,” said Brittany Warner, spokeswoman for the state party, which endorsed Kasich.
In addition he was helped by the New Day for America political action committee, which made 315,000 calls in the final week, put 20,000 people on the street knocking on doors during the last weekend and made 1.5 million paid calls to Ohio voters, according to spokeswoman Connie Wehrkamp.
“I think Kasich’s people they out-organized, they out-hustled the Trump people,” Hobson said. “You might say they out-Trumped Trump.”
Trump, however, had a very good night, winning every state but Ohio. He now has 637 delegates, leading Cruz by 262 delegates and Kasich by 530. Kasich’s only path to the nomination would be a brokered convention, and that might be the only viable path for Cruz as well.
Trump on Wednesday suggested his supporters would “riot” if he comes to the nomination with 1,000 or more delegates — 1,237 are needed — and is denied the nomination.
Several of those interviewed said fears of a Trump presidency helped Kasich in Ohio. Leonard, a former Dayton mayor and lieutenant governor in Ohio, took out a Republican ballot for the first time in his life so that he could vote against Trump.
He said he knows of other Democrats who did the same.
“I voted for Kasich and not just because I don’t want Trump to represent this country but because I know how valuable it is to a state to have a former public official of that state rise to the job of the presidency,” he said. “I think having an Ohioan in that office can really pay dividends to the home state.”