Kasich's priority in Indiana isn't voters

Posted at 8:15 AM, May 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-02 08:15:04-04

While Ted Cruz and Donald Trump battle for Indiana voters Tuesday, John Kasich’s team will wage a different war behind the scenes.

Hoosiers won’t see Kasich volunteers knocking on doors or hear commercials from the Ohio governor’s campaign.

Instead, he’s campaigning to win over another batch of voters: delegates.

Kasich doesn’t have enough primary votes to win the Republican Party’s presidential nomination outright and is pinning his White House hopes on a contested convention in July. Kasich and his campaign are actively working to convince delegates, who would handpick the nominee in a brokered convention, to support him. 

“For John Kasich, his sole focus is on delegates – that’s his constituency,” said Miami University political science professor Chris Kelley. “We’re not talking about conventional campaigning of running advertising. Voters are not who they’re after; they’re after delegates.”

The Kasich campaign has already declared a victory of sorts in Indiana, even ahead of the first poll opening Tuesday morning.

Campaign staffers say they’ve won the support of more Indiana delegates than any other candidate. That support could be crucial if a nominee isn't decided when the first round of voting at the convention rolls around. If the party fails to select a nominee during that first round of voting, Indiana delegates are free to vote for any candidate they want during additional voting rounds. 

“We’re confident in the groundwork we’ve laid ahead of time with the delegates,” said Emmalee Kalmbach, a spokesman for the Kasich campaign. “Come the second ballot (at the convention), we can count on their ballot.”

Kalmbach said Kasich has a team of 30 people learning convention rules and working to woo delegates around the county to vote for Kasich on the convention floor.

Those efforts have worked well in Indiana, where GOP insiders say Kasich’s ideology is popular and reminiscent of former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a popular Republican who left office in 2013.

Tom John, an Indiana Republican delegate, estimates more than half of the delegates in the state favor Kasich.

“It didn’t take that much convincing,” John said of Kasich’s support among delegates in the state. “It’s not that (the campaign) did anything other than being John Kasich.”

But Kasich’s sweeping support from Indiana delegates only matters if the convention is contested in July. And, hopes for that contested convention hinge on the Indiana primary Tuesday.

Trump still needs roughly 240 delegates to win the Republican nomination outright. If he scores a big win in Indiana, where 57 delegates are up for grabs, it will be near impossible to stop him from becoming the nominee. Trump opponents, however, hope Cruz will win big in Indiana Tuesday, which could keep Trump from the nomination.  

That scenario led Kasich to bow out of campaigning in the state last week. The deal was forged between the Kasich and Cruz campaigns as a last-ditch effort to stop Trump and allow Cruz to pick up as many votes as possible in Indiana.

But many wonder if the plan will work.

Political experts say some of Kasich’s Indiana supporters, who tend to be moderate, might not be willing to vote for Cruz, an ultra conservative. Some, in fact, might see Trump as a more moderate option.

“I don’t see any evidence that suggests that people who are supporting John Kasich are anti-Trump,” Kelley said. “Maybe some of the, but not all of them.”

Cruz’s emphasis on conservative family values doesn’t sit well with the state’s more pragmatic and fiscal conservatives, said Pete Seat, a political consultant for Kasich’s Indiana campaign. Cruz will likely struggle to pick up votes in Republican suburbs surrounding Indianapolis – an area where Kasich had big appeal with Republican voters. 

“That’s really where Ted Cruz needs to earn his support (and) he hasn’t at this point,” Seat said. “(Cruz) was given a clear path to earn the support of Hoosier, Republican voters. It’s up to Ted Cruz to earn that support.”

John, the Indiana delegate, said he’s talked with many Kasich supporters who are unsure of how to vote in Tuesday’s primary. Many now plan to vote for Cruz but some can’t stand the idea, he said. And others are turning to Trump because they believe his nomination is inevitable.

Kasich hosted a private meeting last Tuesday with the state’s Republican delegates. While there, he updated the Indiana delegates on his strategy and hoped to diffuse upset over his decision to halt campaigning in the state.

John, who was at the meeting, said most delegates were OK with the decision, understanding that the Kasich campaign simply doesn’t have enough cash to seriously campaign in the state's big markets, including Indianapolis.  

Still, he’ll have a hard time casting his ballot on Tuesday.

“It’s an oddity when your vote for your guy will not be a vote for your guy,” John said.