Arthur Washington seems exactly the kind of voter Ohio Gov. John Kasich is trying to win over in the final days before his make-or-break contest in New Hampshire.
After hearing Kasich speak for about an hour at a country club in New Hampshire’s snowy hills, Washington called him a breath of fresh air in a campaign replete with anti-establishment sentiment and doom-and-gloom warnings from some of the Republicans atop the field.
And yet: “I’m not sure if he entirely fits what people are looking for now,” Washington said.
Kasich is following a brazen strategy to lock up independent-minded voters ahead of Tuesday’s primary with a brazen strategy: He’s optimistic, even sunny, about the nation’s future.
At rallies and town halls across the Granite State, he talks of the importance of a campaign of “good to spread good.” His Super PAC snapped up $1 million to air ads highlighting positivity. And he’s passed at every chance to hit rival Republican candidates.
“People want to be connected again. People want to know someone cares about their problems and is going to be happy with their successes,” he told a crowd of about 100 at the country club. “Can we listen to each other a little bit, care about each other more?”
The sunny message is a gamble for Kasich, who virtually skipped Iowa’s caucus and is betting his candidacy on a strong showing in New Hampshire.
Polls show Kasich between second and fourth place ahead of the Feb. 9 primary, which is tightening as the political world descends on New England and the state’s famously fickle voters start to make up their minds.
Already, there are signs that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s strong third-place finish in Iowa, and his consistent case that establishment Republicans should coalesce around him instead of Kasich and other mainstream rivals, could help him emerge from the pack.
A University of Massachusetts-Lowell poll released Friday shows Rubio gaining steam, going from 8 percent of support on Monday, the day of the Iowa caucus, to 15 percent on Friday – catapulting him ahead of Kasich, who is at 8 percent.
And billionaire Donald Trump’s second-place finish in Iowa this week exposed vulnerabilities in the frontrunner’s campaign strategy, potentially giving Kasich and other candidates a fresh opening.
Kasich’s campaign is also betting that the negative attacks from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie targeting Rubio, and each other, will help him in the end.
At each event, he trumpets the freewheeling town halls – by his count, he would reach 100 by Friday evening – and calls himself a “convener” who got warring factions in Washington and Ohio to reach an accord over budget fights.
“You’re going to have to get both parties to work together. That’s just the way it is.”
And he makes a similar pitch as Rubio on the campaign trail, urging undecideds to vote with both their head and their heart as they head to the polls.
COVERAGE FROM NEW HAMPSHIRE: Greg Bluestein is in New Hampshire following the election for the Dayton Daily News and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter at @bluestein
TUESDAY’S ELECTION: 5 things to know before New Hampshire primary
MORE ON KASICH: Take our quiz, watch videos and more
“Because of where I came from, where if the wind blew the wrong way, people were out of work, you developed a heart,” he said of his Rust Belt upbringing. “You can’t fake it.”
It’s the type of message that resonates with Nick Pangaro, a resident of nearby Hampstead who said he was frustrated by the guns-ablazin’ message from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
“I go to see the other guys, and there’s a litany about blowing things up, shredding enemies. I don’t get that impression here. I like hearing the more positive message,” said Pangaro, who won’t say which candidate he supports. “I don’t see or hear the same thing that I heard today with other Republicans.”
Still, several of the voters closely watching Kasich said he has more convincing to do. Mike Turell, who lives in Atkinson, said he appreciates the Ohio Republican’s “good solid message” – but he’s not committing to him.
“It’s something that the country needs,” he said of Kasich’s pitch. “I just wish he was polling higher. That’s a lot of ground to make up in a few days.”
Consider Washington, the voter who praised Kasich as a “sensible, down-to-Earth person who can work with people,” a skeptic as well.
“I don’t have an impression that there’s a particular mission he excels at, that he would be at the top of the list for any one thing,” said Washington. “Being a jack of all trades in a primary where there’s four or five people is difficult. You might be everyone’s second or third choice.”
He still hasn’t made up his mind – but he’s leaning toward Rubio.