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Will GOP try to use Kasich to stop Trump?

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Posted at 4:41 PM, Mar 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-02 21:46:27-05

In a few days, Cincinnati Republican strategist Doug Moormann will travel to Michigan for a political war, of sorts.

His mission: Stop Donald Trump from becoming the Republican presidential nominee.

“It’s not about sound bites, it’s about leading the free world,” said Moormann, a vice president with Government Strategies Group. “It is critically important that we turn the tide before it's too late.”

Moormann will be among hundreds of Ohioans who are expected to travel to Michigan ahead of the March 8 primary to help their governor, John Kasich, claim a slice of Republican delegates.

“We need to do what we can to turn this tide,” Moormann said. “We’ll be working the phones, walking door to door and … building the case that John Kasich is the sensible choice. He really is the only adult in the room when you compare the alternative.”

 

Doug Moormann, vice president of Government Strategies Group

Kasich finished winless on Super Tuesday, but he wasn’t expected to perform well in conservative southern states. He earned a strong second in Massachusetts and barely lost first place in Vermont to Trump, and then told reporters that he had exceeded expectations.

Now, as Kasich regroups and heads to Michigan this week, experts say a different Republican strategy may be at work.

“I think after last night, the whole Republican calculus is shifting,” said Jared Kamrass, a political consultant at Rivertown Strategies. “It shifted from the party needs to coalesce around a Trump alternative, to now we need to stop Donald Trump from accumulating 50 percent of the delegates at any cost.”

Until now, many had predicted that Kasich would drop out and shift support to a candidate, such as Marco Rubio, who had a better chance to beat Trump in a head-to-head race. After Rubio’s poor showing at Super Tuesday (he only won Minnesota), that Republican strategy may have changed.

Now it seems the GOP may try to fracture the delegate count in order to deny Trump as many delegates possible, in the hopes of a brokered convention this summer.

“The establishment’s hope at this point is that everybody stays in until bitter end,” Kamrass said.

What does this mean for Kasich?

“Michigan is a state where Kasich could do very well and deprive Trump of delegates,” Kamrass said. “And he is the best chance of someone other than Trump winning in Ohio. There’s no benefit to him dropping out now.”

The latest poll has Kasich in fourth place in Michigan, but many believe he could move up -- especially with the help of a powerful ground game that won him second place in the New Hampshire primary.

Former U.S. Sen. Gordon Humphrey, a Kasich supporter, described that New Hampshire ground game as the best that he'd seen in 40 years.

Cincinnati young Republicans Cody Rizzuto and Brad Johnson were among 60 young adults from Ohio who traveled to New Hampshire with Kasich’s PAC, A New Day for America, to do the grunt work before a crucial primary.

“When it came to a ground game, this was unparalleled," Rizzuto said. "We had an army." 

Kasich supporters have the same plan for Michigan.

"I know there's a full effort and deployment in Michigan for John Kasich," said Alex Triantafilou, chair of the Hamilton County Republican Party. "A lot of Ohioans are going to Michigan." 

If Kasich receives at least 15 percent of the vote in Michigan, he will be awarded a proportionate share of the 59 Republican delegates.

“Kasich really has to make headway; he has to win something before March 15,” said Dan Birdsong, a University of Dayton political science lecturer. “A close second in Michigan with almost 60 delegates can be a good thing for him.”

The March 15 primaries, including Ohio and Florida, mark the start of winner-take-all contests. This means that second-place finishers get no delegates.

The latest poll shows that Trump has a narrow lead in Ohio over Kasich. 

But after Ted Cruz won his home state of Texas on Tuesday over Trump, it's a scenario that Kasich has a good chance of repeating, Triantafilou said.

“We haven’t seen anything yet in Ohio,” Birdsong said. “There will be a big push, especially from Kasich. He’s going to put it all in here.”

When people meet Kasich and listen to him at town hall meetings, they usually react in a very positive way, Moormann said.

“I think this creates a scenario where he is the alternative to Donald Trump. He is the alternative to the discord,” Moormann said. “To the chaos that some people are engaging in, he becomes the reasonable candidate.”

Digital reporter Amanda Seitz contributed to this story.