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Does Kasich have a shot?

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Posted at 7:49 AM, Feb 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-09 16:52:14-05

CINCINNATI -- Ohio Gov. John Kasich's big moment is here.

Kasich's presidential campaign could get a big boost if he performs well in the New Hampshire primary Tuesday. Or, the primary could send him packing back to the Buckeye State.

Kasich has held more than 100 town hall meetings and run television ads in New Hampshire, where he hopes to have a strong performance that will catapult him to the top of the race.

The surprising results of Iowa’s caucus on Feb. 2 gave a boost to one of Kasich’s top competitors – Marco Rubio. But it also showed that support for boisterous front-runner Donald Trump may be softening, leaving some of his votes up for grabs.

“Kasich needs everything to break his way in (Tuesday),” said University of Cincinnati political science professor David Niven.

Kasich’s voting shares surged Tuesday morning on PredictIt, a website that allows traders to bet small amounts of money on political and financial events. He is now the clear favorite to nab second place in the primary, behind predicted winner Donald Trump.

Kasich’s shares to be runner-up were trading at 51 cents, a surge of eight cents by 9 a.m. while shares for other hopefuls were falling - Marco Rubio at 31 cents, Ted Cruz at 12 cents, and Jeb Bush at 11 cents.

“I think Kasich does have a good shot here. For those who watch the morning news and don't like Trump or Cruz, they will see that Kasich is the one that is tied with them. Could shave off a little last-minute Bush or Rubio support,” one political trader wrote.

Other political traders were less hopeful.

“You all are falling into the hype. Kasich will have a strong late surge to finish in a clear third. Rubio is going to have a strong second. You are all throwing your money away,” another political trader wrote.

Kasich needs a top-three finish in the Granite State's primary to continue his campaign, Niven said.

“Kasich even explicitly said so – ‘If I get smoked in New Hampshire, it’s over,’” Niven said. “Candidates don’t usually put it in such direct terms.”

Kasich is betting his entire campaign on New Hampshire, and is within sight of a second-place finish. The latest poll by Real Clear Politics places he and Rubio in a virtual tie for second place, far behind Trump as the predicted winner.

Iowa’s voters spoke loudly and could sway New Hampshire. They crowned Cruz the surprise winner over Trump and gave Rubio a strong third-place finish, which could signal Rubio as the top candidate for moderates.

“I think this was not a good outcome for Kasich,” said Ohio State University political science professor Paul Beck. “It elevates Rubio as the main choice among the four contested mainstream Republican candidates in New Hampshire.”

Rubio won 23.1 percent of the vote in Iowa, just 1.2 percent behind Trump’s second place. That strong showing may persuade undecided voters that Rubio is the best choice among the pack of mainstream candidates -- Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and Kasich.

“They may think, ‘I like all of these guys, but Rubio looks like the one who will emerge as the likely nominee, so let me go ahead and vote for him,” Beck said.

Rubio's poor performance during Saturday's Republican debate, however, has some speculating that a new mainstream Republican candidate might emerge from New Hampshire.

Kasich didn’t spend much campaign time in Iowa, where voters lean conservative and favor evangelical candidates. And the results show that: He won 1.9 percent of the vote and one delegate.

Instead Kasich invested heavily in New Hampshire, where he made more stops than any other candidate, according to the New England Cable News candidate tracker.

Along the way Kasich collected endorsements from most major New Hampshire newspapers, as well as the Boston Globe and The New York Times.

“If Kasich finishes fourth (in New Hampshire), he’s coming home," Niven said. "He’s on the first flight out of Manchester. And he may well be coming home if he finishes third."

But Trump’s disappointing finish in Iowa may mean that some votes are up for grabs. Despite leading in all the polls, Trump came in second to Cruz's commanding 27.6 percent of the vote.

“People may start shifting toward other candidates and away from Donald Trump,” said Dan Birdsong, a political science lecturer at the University of Dayton.

“That’s the open question -- how likely are the people who Donald Trump is attracting to his rallies -- how likely are they to vote for him?” Birdsong said. “It may be that support for Trump is softer than people think and … his support dwindles in the next week or so.”

If Kasich can capture some of those voters, it could give him a boost.

"Donald Trump losing has opened the door for a lot of campaigns," said Alex Triantafilou, chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party.

Triantafilou was in New Hampshire last weekend watching the campaigns, including Kasich's.

Also good news for Kasich is the open voting system in New Hampshire, which allows unaffiliated voters to take part in either primary, experts said.

"It's an open process," Triantafilou said. "I met several people who were oscillating between a Democratic candidate and Republican candidates. There were people who were between Sanders and Trump. I met people who were between Hillary and Cruz."

Once the votes are counted on Feb. 9, it will be a decisive campaign-ender for somebody, Niven said. “Kasich and Christie and Bush are all hoping it’s not them.”

If Kasich does finish poorly in New Hampshire, he may still make it to the White House – but as a vice presidential candidate.

His moderate stance, gold-plated resume and ability to deliver Ohio in a presidential contest all make him an attractive vice presidential pick, experts said.

How soon could talk switch to vice president if Kasich finishes poorly in New Hampshire?

“I would say before he finishes his concession speech,” Niven said.