Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s maverick, moderate candidacy for the Republican nomination appears on the verge of collapsing in Michigan, a state where he has one last chance to demonstrate some electoral might.
A new Michigan poll finds Kasich stuck in single digits, in a distant fourth place at 8%, with just five days until Tuesday’s primary. Donald Trump has a 10-point lead over Ted Cruz (with 19%) and Marco Rubio (18%) in the EPIC-MRA survey and Kasich’s chances of entering the Top 3 seems remote.
It’s hard to imagine that tonight’s GOP debate at the Fox Theater in Detroit could make a difference in the latest faceoff where the candidate who shouts the loudest gets the most headlines. The only sliver of good news for Kasich is that he is the second choice among 18% of GOP primary voters, second only to Rubio (26%) among candidates who could benefit from last-minute shifts among Great Lakes State voters.
A bad omen?
Kasich is criss-crossing the state trying to build momentum but a particularly disastrous campaign event at the University of Michigan on Wednesday, with the candidate as a no-show, may serve as a bad omen.
After holding well over 100 town halls, voters who have heard the Ohio Republican on the stump seem to genuinely like his positive, politic message. But being second choice – actually second place for second choice – will get him nowhere.
Kasich’s strategy from Day One was to demonstrate strength across the Midwest, especially in the industrial upper Midwest. But if he loses badly on Tuesday in his neighboring state of Michigan, exactly the type of state he thought he could win, then his campaign will essentially be over.
He could look forward to success in Ohio on March 15 but, in the campaign expectations game, he will score no points for winning his home state.
Perhaps a quixotic effort
To be fair, Kasich was always viewed as the square peg trying to fit into a round hole. If you’re positioning yourself as the most moderate choice, in today’s GOP, especially in the unconventional race of 2016, you’ve instantly marginalized your chances of success.
Kasich has placed second in a small cluster of Northeast states – New Hampshire, Vermont and Masschusetts – but still lacks a win and has demonstrated no ability to secure votes (or delegates) in the South or West. His overall poor showing on Super Tuesday may already make the EPIC-MRA numbers (from a Feb. 28-29 survey) a bit dated – and not in a good way for the governor.
Meanwhile, Kasich’s U-M campaign stop in Ann Arbor was disastrous in two ways. The campaign team failed to realize that it’s spring break for Michigan students. As a result, according to the Detroit Free Press, only a few dozen people were on hand in the deserted Union Building. Worse yet, Kasich’s chartered plane failed to make it to the event, which resulted in him speaking to the small group through an amplified phone connection. The campaign, he said, “screwed up.”
The candidate drew decent crowds elsewhere on Wednesday, at Macomb County’s Ukrainian Cultural Center (photo above) and at a venue in Grand Blanc, but he is not competing on the same stage as Trump, who draws thousands of people everywhere he goes.
A badge of honor
In various forms, Kasich and his campaign team have suggested that he doesn’t want the support of bigoted voters who have gravitated toward the always entertaining Trump. He quickly emerged as the anti-Trump.
The Michigan poll found that an astounding 61% of GOP voters support Trump’s plan to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the U.S. Months after the mass-killing in San Bernardino, Calif., was revealed to be a rogue move by a jihadi couple, not an ISIS-planned event, 85 percent of Trump supporters still favor the Muslim ban, according to the survey.
The one bloc of voters who sharply deviated on this issue was the Kasich crowd, with 68 percent of the governor’s backers opposing this radical idea.
On this issue and many others, Kasich has clearly demonstrated that he’s not willing to pander or flip-flop to gain traction. If nearly two-thirds of the GOP electorate expected to vote on Tuesday across Michigan favors a ban on Muslims in America, then perhaps Kasich can portray a loss here as a badge of honor.
Which in politics is a bit like second place. Or being a second choice.