Hours after brushing off the red, white and blue confetti from winning his home state’s presidential primary on March 15, Ohio Governor John Kasich stood before a gaggle of reporters in Pennsylvania and said the Republican race was heading to his strength.
“I’ve been playing in somebody’s own home court,” Kasich said after a town hall meeting at Villanova University outside of Philadelphia. “Now we’re getting to my home-court advantage.”
But with Pennsylvania set to hold its primary on Tuesday along with four other northeastern states, and Indiana voting a week later on May 3, there are few signs of any home-court advantage for Kasich. The Ohio governor is running third in both Pennsylvania and Indiana behind New Yorker Donald Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, according to RealClearPolitics averages of recent polls.
And with Trump poised to do well in Tuesday’s contests and both Kasich and Cruz unable to get a majority of delegates before the party’s convention in July, their campaigns announced a deal on Sunday night. Kasich agreed not to campaign in Indiana to allow Cruz to challenge Trump there, while Cruz will stay out of New Mexico and Oregon as the two candidates try to keep the billionaire under the needed number of delegates to force a contested convention.
While Kasich still hopes to win the party’s nomination on multiple ballots in Cleveland by promoting himself as the most electable candidate, his supporters offer a variety of reasons why the Ohio governor, elected twice in a state that Republicans must carry to win the presidency, isn’t getting much traction — even from his neighbors. He jumped into the race too late. He wasn’t flashy enough or angry enough. But most of all, he’s a pragmatic government insider at a time that voters fed up with the status quo.
“People are looking for something different,” said Greg Ballard, the former Republican mayor of Indianapolis who hasn’t endorsed a candidate but is leaning toward Kasich. “The extremes on both sides are winning more and more.”
As part of their deal announced on Sunday, both Cruz and Kasich said they plan to compete in the other states with remaining presidential contests besides Indiana, Oregon and New Mexico while they try to wrangle delegates. That involves getting friendly delegates elected at state meetings and reaching out to those who are named, to persuade them to be supportive after initial balloting in Cleveland.
Kasich’s campaign has acknowledged that Cruz has a superior ground operation, and the Texas senator won the majority of delegates selected in Utah and Maine parties over the weekend. Still, Kasich’s team, which includes Republican strategists Charlie Black and Stu Spencer, veterans of the last contested Republican convention in 1976, say they can be competitive in electing and winning over delegates.
Pennsylvania, the largest prize on Tuesday, seemed tailor-made for Kasich. He grew up outside of Pittsburgh, and a staple of his pitch to voters is that his father carried mail on his back, his grandfather was a coal miner, and if “the wind blew the wrong way” in his blue-collar town, people found themselves out of work.
Yet while Kasich has campaigned in Pennsylvania and has events scheduled there on Monday, including a rally in his home town of McKees Rocks, he spent Friday in Connecticut and Saturday in Rhode Island, and he’s been spending time in Maryland, states where his campaign thinks he has a better chance to win delegates.
Trump plans events Monday in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, pushing his message that a different approach is needed. The billionaire businessman has promised to bring back the steel industry in Pittsburgh, and at a rally on Saturday in Waterbury, Connecticut, pledged action about the region losing some 60 percent of its manufacturing jobs during the past 16 years.
“People want something special,” Trump said in Waterbury. “We don’t want this all talk.”
The main reason underlying the rise of Trump in Pennsylvania is economic angst, said U.S. Representative Charlie Dent, a Republican from Allentown, who backs Kasich.
In Philadelphia, as new luxury apartments rise and Comcast Corp. builds a second skyscraper, almost 30 percent of residents live in poverty. The city also has the highest rate of “deep poverty’ — people with incomes below half of the poverty line — of any of the nation’s 10 most populous cities. Few people are moving to the state, and its economy is expected to grow at 2 percent, lower than the national rate of 2.4 percent.
“The economy is just not as robust as it should be,” Dent said, adding that Kasich “hasn’t played to the anger of the some of the electorate.”
The political class of the sixth-most populous state also hasn’t engendered much confidence. The sitting attorney general and a U.S. congressman are under indictment, the former treasurer is awaiting sentencing for extortion, and two Supreme Court justices resigned in fallout from a pornography scandal. The state went without a budget for the first nine months of the fiscal year, straining the finances of schools and social-service agencies, because the Tom Wolf, the first-term Democratic governor, and the Republican-led legislature couldn’t agree.
Indiana is the next state to vote after Tuesday’s primaries. Mike McDaniel, the former state Republican chairman, had said before the Kasich-Cruz deal was announced that he planned to back the Ohio governor in the May 3 ballot because he’s most like Mitch Daniels, the popular former two-term Indiana governor who once toyed with a presidential run.
But Daniels has been out of office since early 2013, when the state’s six-term Senator Richard Lugar also left office after Indiana Republicans rejected him for an upstart Tea Party challenger.
Kasich just can’t compete with Trump’s bombast and appeal to disaffected voters today, McDaniel said. “He can’t get in over the noise,” McDaniel said. “It’s like we’re watching a reality show.”
Indiana ranks 18th in job growth among U.S. states since the end of the recession in June 2009, federal data show. Carrier Corp. and United Technologies Electronic Controls Inc. said in February they are moving operations to Mexico from Indiana, something Trump railed against during a rally in Indianapolis on April 20.
Some Indiana Republicans interviewed on Thursday at the party’s spring dinner in Indianapolis, including 53 year-old information technology consultant Edward Adams, said they liked Kasich but were voting for Cruz because the Ohio governor, as Adams said, “doesn’t have a chance.”
Indiana Senator Dan Coats, who had endorsed Florida Senator Marco Rubio, now isn’t formally backing anyone but likes Kasich. “I would like to see John Kasich have a chance to be a part of this, and to be able to be considered,” Coats said in an interview. “Frankly, Donald Trump has just sucked up all the oxygen in this race.”