Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks in Lansing during his campaign in Michigan for the presidential nomination.
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COLUMBUS — And it all comes down to Ohio.
Voicing confidence after his good finish in Michigan on Tuesday, Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s presidential aspirations now rest on his home state on March 15. He hopes to carry Ohio’s 66 delegates as a badge of honor into remaining primary states, and perhaps a contested Cleveland convention.
Mr. Kasich compared the next week to March Madness while speaking before a crowd of about 200 Tuesday night in a downtown Columbus hotel.
“Now the homecourt advantage is coming north, and next week we are going to win the state of Ohio,” he said.
The governor has not finished first in any primary, but he has managed, as in Michigan, to quietly pick up delegates to get him to this point. Fifty-nine GOP delegates, awarded proportionally, were up for grabs in Michigan.
The tight count had Mr. Kasich closely competing with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas for second place, both well behind billionaire businessman Donald Trump.
“We’re now moving into position where the people of America are beginning to hear this message,” Mr. Kasich said. “For the late voters in Michigan, about 35 percent went for our campaign. ... With the contest going forward, the three of us competing for the delegates that remain, we are in a virtual dead heat.”
Polls show him locked in a tight battle with Mr. Trump for Ohio, which Mr. Kasich has characterized as a must-win if he is to present himself as the most viable alternative to Mr. Trump.
Unlike Michigan, Ohio is a winner-take-all state.
Mr. Kasich had been counting on the state up north serving as the first brick in a Midwest-Rust Belt firewall against Mr. Trump. But Mr. Trump’s convincing first-place finish in Michigan and collection of many of its delegates means it’s up to Ohio to make the case to voters nationally for Mr. Kasich.
He vowed not to “get down in the gutter” of the campaign, talking instead about a balanced federal budget, lower taxes, “common-sense regulation,” and job creation, a menu that he said has worked in Ohio and will work nationally.
“Then it goes to the convention [if Mr. Kasich wins Ohio],” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “That’s been the strategy all along, and it isn’t only his strategy. It’s Rubio’s idea and Cruz’s, too. Senior Republicans are actually encouraging all three to stay in to deadlock the convention.
“As long as there are three other candidates collecting delegates, it’s possible to do it,” he said. “It’s not a certainty. The game will be much clearer next Tuesday, but I think Kasich will probably win Ohio.”
Mr. Kasich finds himself spending valuable time defending what should have been reliable territory instead of reaching out to other delegate-rich states voting on March 15.
After thanking Michigan voters, he said, “I landed in Cleveland today, and I got down on my hands and knees and almost kissed the ground.”
The Super PAC supporting his candidacy, New Day for America, and Mr. Kasich’s official campaign have been forced to invest in ads in Ohio touting the governor’s record, a message voters here are already familiar with from Mr. Kasich’s re-election campaign a little more than a year ago.
“It’s amazing that with 60 percent popularity, he can’t figure out whether he will win his state,” Mr. Sabato said. “He has a better chance than Rubio [in Florida].”
Mr. Kasich will visit Illinois today and then head to Miami for the latest Republican debate.
But then he’ll be back in Ohio, using a Friday town hall event at the new Fuyao Glass America plant in Moraine near Dayton. The investment in a former General Motors plant by the Chinese auto glassmaker has been one of the highest-profile economic development announcements of his administration.
Mr. Cruz and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida have so far largely ceded Ohio to Mr. Kasich and Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, is intent on denying Mr. Kasich the prize and will follow through with his promise to return to Ohio for rallies in Vandalia, near Dayton, and Cleveland on Saturday.
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.
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