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“I’m not going to shut something down because a bunch of people in the inner city of Washington, who frankly never liked me from the beginning, are going to try to tell me what I’m going to do,” Kasich told reporters in Virginia on Monday.
He doubled down on that in Georgia on Tuesday, saying: “I would hope they would be clearing the decks for me. I’ve spent the least amount of money and am rising in the polls. I can win my home state. Why would I clear the decks for them? They ought to be consolidating around me.”
Kasich’s political strategist John Weaver fired off a memo that said insiders who want to “anoint” Rubio need a reality check on Rubio’s viability.
A new poll released Tuesday by Quinnipiac University shows Trump beats Kasich by 5 percentage points among likely Ohio GOP primary voters. If the contest were held today, Trump would win 31 percent, Kasich 26 percent, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas 21 percent, Rubio 13 percent, and retired brain surgeon Ben Carson 5 percent, the poll found.
Kasich brushed off the results and all but guaranteed he would win the Buckeye state primary on March 15.
“Everybody is getting slaughtered in their state and we’re within the margin of error,” he said. “We’re going to win Ohio, there’s no question about it. … The last thing I worry about is how we’re going to do in Ohio. We’re going to win Ohio.”
Pollsters said there is room for movement in Ohio because 5 percent of GOP primary voters are undecided and 38 percent say they might change their mind before the March 15 primary. Nearly one-third of Republican primary voters say they would “definitely not” support Trump and 22 percent say they wouldn’t support Cruz.
Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said “We feel very, very comfortable with the governor’s strong position here in Ohio.”
The problem for Kasich, though, may be what happens before Ohio. To remain viable, Kasich will have to weather a gauntlet of more conservative, evangelical states that aren’t as receptive to his centrist message.
On the March 1 Super Tuesday, Republicans will compete in a dozen states including Texas, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas. Kasich hopes to do better in the northern Super Tuesday states, such as Massachusetts, Minnesota and Vermont, but polls show Trump leading in those states as well.
Kasich has been campaigning in Michigan, hoping his experience as governor in neighboring Ohio will win him support on March 8. But, again, polls show Trump leading in Michigan.
Ohio, Florida and other states vote March 15, and by day’s end 60 percent of the Republican delegates will be awarded. Ohio and Florida are both crucial “winner-take-all” states whereas other states award delegates proportionately.
While Trump is leading Kasich in Ohio, he is way ahead of Rubio in his home state of Florida. Polls released last month showed Trump had a 21 percent lead on average, according to Real Clear Politics, but those results came before former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush dropped out of the race.
Most pundits believe winning on home turf is crucial for continuing in the race.
“For Kasich, it is win or go home in Ohio. For Rubio it is win or go home in Florida. And for Cruz, his home state is Texas and that’s on March 1, and that’s probably win or go home for him,” said Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who is backing Kasich, said the Ohio governor has the experience needed to balance budgets, spark the economy and work across the aisle.
“That’s why I support John,” Portman said. “He is going to have to make his own decision about what his timing is but I think he is the best candidate for president.”
Democrats seem eager to run against Trump and capitalize on his boorish remarks, controversial stances and erratic temperament.
But Kondik warned against underestimating Trump, and said he expects him to tweak his message and delivery as a general election candidate.
“I was fairly dismissive of Trump when he got in the race in the summer time and I think that some people are making the mistake again of being dismissive of him as a general election candidate. Don’t get me wrong — I think that Rubio or Kasich would be a much better nominee for the Republicans but that doesn’t also mean that Trump is a certain loser.”
Cox Media Group staff writer Aaron Gould Sheinin contributed to this report.