CINCINNATI -- Winning Ohio has always been John Kasich’s strategy.
That is, if he wants a shot at the White House.
Now, with days to go until the March 15 primary here, the moment of truth is dawning for Kasich in a GOP primary that has turned into an unpredictable, change-by-the-minute race for the presidency.
“Ohio is his D-Day,” said Jared Kamrass, a principal at Cincinnati political consulting firm Rivertown Strategies.
The ground game in Ohio began Wednesday with direct mailings, television ads, phone calls and door knocks. Kasich has seven events scheduled here this weekend, from a pancake breakfast in Sharonville to a town hall meeting in Moraine.
“He should be fighting for his political life,” said University of Cincinnati political science professor David Niven. “If he does not win Ohio, I would expect his withdrawal speech on Tuesday night.”
Kasich is known for his strong ground game. An army of volunteers helped him ahead of primaries in New Hampshire and Michigan, with good results.
Although Kasich did not win a top two finish in the Michigan primary on Tuesday night, he didn’t miss the mark by much, with only 8,000 voters separating him from second-place finisher Ted Cruz. Trump easily won the state.
“His ground game in New Hampshire and Michigan...he will be able to replicate that 100 fold in Ohio because he already has the apparatus in place,” Kamrass said.
If Kasich puts his volunteers to work, Miami University political science professor Chris Kelley predicts he’ll have a win here in Ohio on Tuesday.
“Retail politics has really worked well for him,” Kelley said of Kasich. “If he wants to win Ohio he has to work it like he did in New Hampshire and Michigan."
Ohioans should expect to see lots from Kasich – and many of the other presidential campaigns – in the final days leading up to Tuesday. Doug Moormann, a political strategist for Cincinnati-based Government Strategies Group, is already planning for Kasich’s team to deploy him on the ground this week. Moorman volunteered with hundreds of Ohioans earlier in the week to campaign for Kasich in Michigan.
“Volunteers will be deployed and dispersed across Ohio, working to turn out votes for Gov. Kasich,” Moormann said. “I’d expect your doorbell to ring, I’d expect a mailer and I’d expect a phone call.”
Kasich needs to remind Ohioans of why they like him, Niven said, especially since the media has given so much attention to Donald Trump during the campaign.
“I think he has to sell himself to Ohioans,” Niven said.
Two new polls show Trump leading in Ohio. A Quinnipiac University poll shows voters favoring Trump 38 to 32 percent over Kasich, with five percent of voters undecided. And a CNN/ORC poll shows a similar spread with Trump holding Ohio 41 percent to Kasich's 35 percent.
“The polls are saying Trump. I can imagine him winning Ohio, but I can also imagine Kasich winning Ohio. There is favorite-son aspect that will help him in Ohio,” said Ohio State University political science professor Paul Beck.
Some experts are skeptical of polls, since they have not predicted some surprises – such as Bernie Sanders’ upset win in Michigan over Hillary Clinton on Tuesday. Some pollsters predicted Clinton would beat Sanders by a margin of 17 points.
Kelley said polls that use landline phone calls are especially unpredictable because they typically don’t capture minority voters who might not be able to afford a telephone or young voters who might not have a landline.
“In some cases, the polls are not measuring the right people,” Kelley said.
These same polls are predicting a dramatic loss for Marco Rubio in the Florida primary on March 15 with 22 percent to Trump’s 45 percent in one poll and a 24 to 40 percent loss to Trump in another poll.
This is prompting some experts to wonder if Rubio will drop out of the race. Kamrass believes that could happen as early as Wednesday.
“He’s a young guy who has a bright future,” Kamrass said. “Losing the Florida primary would be devastating for him, especially if he wants to run for governor.”
If Rubio did drop out of the race, it could help Kasich, who would be the last remaining establishment GOP candidate and perhaps the one who benefits from a possible brokered convention in July, experts said.
“If Rubio moves out and Gov. Kasich can secure some of that support and keep it a three-person race, he can remain competitive,” Moormann said.
Kasich may also benefit from Rubio’s campaign dollars. Donors may pool their money into a Stop Trump Super PAC, or they could pour money into Kasich’s campaign, Kamrass said.
Other experts said that Rubio would stay in the campaign through the Florida primary. Some also believe Kasich will stay in the race regardless of whether he loses Ohio.
With so many differing opinions, the one scenario that experts seem to agree on is the unpredictability of this election season.
“Nothing is sticking to the formula,” Niven said. “Normally an election is like the plot of a Hollywood movie, there’s familiar rhythm to things. But not this year.”