John Kasich edges clear of Trump in Ohio home state where stakes are high

John Kasich has yet to win a state and has said if he fails in Ohio, he will exit the race

Most US election cycles produce one: a Republican candidate of whom the liberal-leaning “mainstream media” actually approves. In 1996 it was Lamar Alexander, a former Governor of Tennessee. In 2012 it was Jon Huntsman, once Utah’s Governor and a US ambassador to China.

Unfortunately, praise from The New York Times and the like is usually the kiss of death in the primaries, proof that the candidate is no true conservative. And so, almost certainly, it will be this time around for Ohio Governor John Kasich.

From the outset, Mr Kasich has been odd man out in the Republican field: polite, quiet spoken, moderate and relentlessly positive, focusing on the issues and his political achievements.

These happen to make him far and away his party’s best-qualified candidate still standing: a former nine-term Congressman from Ohio who held top positions on the armed services and budget committees (in the latter capacity he helped forge the balanced budgets of the late 1990s),  and a successful and highly popular two-term governor.

No less refreshing is his capacity to surprise. Sometimes he loses discipline as a campaigner, prone to free associations that take him off message. In an act of near heresy for a Republican  governor, Mr Kasich has used the opportunity provided by Obamacare to expand Medicaid, the federal health programme for the poor, in Ohio.

All this gives him genuinely bipartisan appeal, that could make him the most formidable Republican opponent in the autumn for Hillary Clinton. Such is the message of the polls, that give him an average seven-point lead over the likely Democratic nominee.

But to win the nomination you’ve got to win primaries – and in this crazy election year, Mr Kasich so far hasn’t won a single one. In the 24 states that have voted, he has collected just three second-place finishes and a virtual tie for second this week in Michigan. Next Tuesday is the Kasich last stand. Unless he wins his home state’s primary that day, he has said he will drop out of the race.

Right now it is a two-horse contest between himself and Donald Trump, with signs that the Governor may be edging ahead. A Fox News poll this week suggested 34 per cent would vote for him, compared with 29 per cent for Mr Trump. 

Mr Kasich has also boosted his home-field advantage by scooping the endorsement of Urban Meyer, revered coach of Ohio State University’s American football team (in the US, such things matter).

But even victory in Ohio would not give Mr Kasich a realistic path to ultimate victory. True, the haul of 66 delegates under Ohio’s winner-take-all rules would more than double his present total of 51 (1,237 are needed to nominate). He would at minimum require strong showings the same night in Illinois and Missouri, and later in other northern and western states, culminating with California on 7 June.

But this scenario holds only if Mr Trump has not wrapped matters up by then. In that case, the Ohio Governor could (theoretically at least) emerge triumphant after several ballots at an open convention. More likely, if he does make it on to the Republican ticket, it will be as a vice-presidential nominee. As always, Ohio, the supreme swing state, will be a vital prize. Mr Kasich might ensure that it – and with it perhaps the entire election – swings the Republican way.

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