Ohio Gov. John Kasich won his home state primary prize on Tuesday night with a wider-than-expected margin. So what does that mean for his presidential campaign going forward?
It may be the most asked political question of the week.
At this stage, Kasich cannot win the 1,237 delegates needed for the GOP nomination. So he will likely cherry-pick his way through the most favorable states remaining in a last-ditch strategy to deny Donald Trump the nomination by starving him of delegates.
“He doesn’t want to spend time running across every state in the country,” said Sean Comer, government relations director at Xavier University. “He needs to focus on the ones that Trump can’t win.”
Kasich likely won’t mount a major campaign in each of the 22 states and territories that have delegates up for grabs before the Republican National Convention in July.
But he will launch his highly successful ground game in the states he has the best chance to win: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, New York, Indiana, the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states and possibly the big prize of California, experts said.
“It’s the formula that works for his campaign. This is retail politics at its finest,” said Doug Moorman, vice president and political consultant at Government Strategies Group. “They’ll try to identify and deploy volunteers around the country that are meeting one-on-one with voters.”
The longer Kasich and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz stay in the race, the more the remaining votes might be split up, said Christopher Kelley, Miami University political science professor.
“It becomes really hard for Trump, or anyone, to win this majority,” Kelley said.
Cruz typically performs better in the South and in states with more evangelicals and Tea Party conservatives. The primary schedule was stacked early with these states, and Cruz was able to capitalize.
In the coming weeks, more moderate states will host primaries and it could be fertile ground for Kasich.
“In the Ohio results, you can see the kind of Republican who John Kasich appeals to: college educated, financially satisfied, city and suburban folk,” said University of Cincinnati political science professor David Niven.
Kasich also does well with undecided voters.
“Trump voters tend to be Trump voters from the start,” Niven said. “The typical person who hasn't made up their mind yet, however, will ultimately vote against Trump. This gives Kasich and Cruz room to grow in most states.”
Ohio exit polls show that Kasich won six out of 10 late-deciding voters, Niven said.
“Getting to the convention would be a lot easier if Kasich and Cruz work together,” Niven said. “Ideally, they would divvy up the remaining states and not compete with each other in any state.”
For example, if Kasich's voters had gone to Cruz in the North Carolina primary, then Cruz would have won there instead of Trump, Niven said.
This scenario makes a contested convention more likely because it deprives Trump of delegates, which helps Kasich in the long run. Kasich is favored by the GOP establishment, so he has a better chance of becoming the nominee, Niven said.
“In other words, in some states, a vote against Kasich is actually the best way to support him,” Niven said.
If Trump does not win enough delegates, then the GOP will go to a contested convention. Depending on the rules of each state, some delegates who had been committed to the candidate who won their state may become free agents and be able vote for whoever they want.
“At that point the delegates will look very hard at who the polls are showing has the best chance to defeat the Democratic nominee in November,” said Ohio State University political science professor Paul Beck. “ But if Trump scores the 1,237 delegates he needs, then that’s it.”
Here are the important upcoming GOP dates:
March 22: Arizona primary, Utah caucus, American Samoa GOP convention.
April 3: North Dakota GOP convention.
April 5: Wisconsin primary.
April 19: New York primary.
April 26: Primaries in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island.
May 3: Indiana primary.
May 10: West Virginia and Nebraska GOP primary.
May 17: Oregon primary.
May 24 Washington State GOP primary.
June 7: Primaries in California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Dakota.
July 18-21: Republican National Convention.