Ohio governor needs fuel from 2016 launch

John Kasich on Tuesday will enter the Republican race for the White House needing a burst of momentum to claim a spot in the first GOP debate, scheduled for Aug. 6 in the Ohio governor’s home state.

Kasich joins the fight with the respect of establishment Republicans and conservative media pundits, who have long seen him as a potential rival to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.


But he’s little known nationally, and polls have him falling outside the GOP’s top 10 — which would keep him off the debate stage in Cleveland next month.

“His central problem is that he has all of Jeb’s weaknesses and lacks some of his strengths,” said Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak.

To do well, Kasich needs to jumpstart his campaign with a successful launch from Ohio State University.

Kasich plans to pitch himself to primary voters as the only candidate in the field with experience on Capitol Hill, in the private sector and as governor. He’s putting most of his chips on a solid showing in New Hampshire, where he’ll be running in the same mainstream conservative lane as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Bush — who has so far outraised Kasich by about a 10-to-1 margin.

Kasich’s late launch date could be perfectly timed to help propel him into debate contention.

The polling difference between Kasich and the candidates currently in 9th and 10th place is negligible, and his entrance into the race could give him the bump he needs.

“It’s critical for him to get into that debate, just like it’s critical for everyone, so he’ll be looking for a short-term boost from his announcement,” said Republican pollster David Winston, a veteran of Newt Gingrich’s 2012 campaign. “It could come down to how compelling an argument he makes during his launch.”

Fox News is capping the number of participants at 10 based on national polling numbers. Kasich is currently in 12th place, according to the 

RealClearPolitics average of polls, taking only 1.5 percent support.

So far this year, GOP candidates have seen varying degrees of bounces in the wake of their announcements. Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), as well as retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, got sizeable boosts in the immediate aftermath of their launches. Others, like Christie and Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), got almost no bounce at all.

Kasich’s team says it’s not worried in the slightest about missing the debate, arguing that its focus is squarely on the early-voting states, and New Hampshire in particular. Spending by New Day for America, the nonprofit group supporting Kasich’s presidential bid, backs up that claim.

Rather than pumping money into national television ads, as some candidates are doing to raise their profiles ahead of the debates, New Day for America launched a second round of ads this week that will run in the Granite State.

“That’s a much sounder investment of our resources,” New Day for America spokesman Chris Schrimpf told The Hill.

Kasich could face some of the same troubles with the base that have dogged Bush. He unapologetically supports Common Core education standards, has said he would be open to supporting a pathway to citizenship for those in the country illegally and he expanded Medicaid in Ohio under ObamaCare.

At his alma mater, Kasich is expected to hammer home the argument that he’s the most experienced candidate in the field.

Kasich spent 18 years representing Ohio’s 12th district. He rose to chairman of the House Budget Committee and points frequently to his role in achieving a balanced federal budget under former President Clinton.

Kasich also spent time on the Armed Services Committee, making him the rare governor running for president who can boast of having substantial foreign policy experience.

Following his time in Congress, Kasich worked for Lehman Brothers, before returning to politics and unseating Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D) in 2010. In 2014, Kasich won reelection in a landslide, carrying 86 of the 88 counties in a state that will be critical in determining the outcome of the 2016 election.

“He is uniquely qualified to lead the country,” Schrimpf said. “Nobody else can say they balanced the federal budget, have executive experience running a major state and have the kind of foreign policy experience he has. He’s the total package.”

Republicans say that Kasich is a natural fit for independent and mainstream conservative primary voters in New Hampshire, and his political team appears poised to go all in there.

New Day for America, which hauled in an impressive $11.5 million in the second quarter, put $1.7 million behind a first round of ads introducing Kasich to New Hampshire voters. The group declined to say how much it put behind a second round of ads launched Tuesday but called the investment “significant.”

Kasich will have the support of former Sen. John E. Sununu (R), whose family has a towering political presence in New Hampshire.

And following his launch, Kasich will conduct five town-hall-style events in New Hampshire over a three-day period. It’s a forum Republicans say will showcase Kasich’s strength as a charismatic, no-nonsense straight-shooter.

“It’s a style that plays well up here,” said Tom Rath, a GOP strategist in New Hampshire and senior adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign. “The more I talk to people out here, the more his name comes up. He’s going to get a look.”

But even if Kasich can get out of New Hampshire with a win or a high finish, some in the party remain skeptical that he has broader appeal to Republican primary voters. Like Bush, Kasich has said he won’t back away from his positions on education, immigration or healthcare.

“I think he has bigger problems with the conservative base than he realizes,” said Mackowiak.

Team Kasich is betting that his unconventional style will win over skeptical Republicans.

Rath noted that about one-third of New Hampshire primary voters could be self-described independents, giving the electorate a more moderate flavor.

“I think what’s going to appeal to folks, and independents in particular, is that he’s not someone who plays politics,” Schrimpf said. “He’s going to do what’s best for his state or best for the country, not just give you the political answers you want to hear. He’s going to tell the truth, and people respond to someone who doesn’t change with the political winds.”