Is New Hampshire John Kasich's breakthrough moment?
Long overlooked by the Republican establishment, the Ohio governor and presidential candidate pulled off a strong second-place finish in the Granite State's primary Tuesday, beating expectations and rivals like Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio. It's a coup for the long shot candidate, who poured much of his time, energy, and money into New Hampshire. The big question for Governor Kasich, who faces empty coffers and a slew of less-friendly southern states in the weeks ahead: Can he translate that momentum into more coverage, cash, and staying power?
"He should take this opportunity to re-introduce himself to the American people," says Jonathan Rothermel, professor of political science at Mansfield University in Mansfield, Penn. "He will need to...sell himself as the most level-headed and electable candidate...if he hopes to capitalize on his strong New Hampshire performance.”
"For Kasich, the strategy will be to capitalize on this to increase media attention and donations and to focus on Michigan, Ohio, and Florida," adds Nick Clark, assistant professor of political science at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Penn. "He is going to have to weather several defeats in the Southern states, where Cruz is likely to do well, before he reaches more victories. I think his strong showing [in New Hampshire] keeps him in the race..."
Of course, the Ohio governor himself is optimistic.
"If I come out of New Hampshire as a big story, I think I will be the nominee and I think I have an excellent chance to be president," Kasich told CNN before the results were in. "All of a sudden, I'll have name ID, I'll be able to raise the money, people will be more willing to help me."
In fact, Kasich's strong New Hampshire finish highlighted the strengths he may capitalize on in other races. He performed especially well with Granite State voters who said they value experience, leadership, and a candidate who "shares my values."
The Ohio governor is certainly more experienced than many of his rivals, serving nine terms in Congress before becoming governor. Twice elected chief executive of a swing state, he's known to work across the aisle and for his pragmatic, policy-forward approach.
Even in a race marked by a strong anti-establishment sentiment, Kasich has always emphasized his mainstream, moderate, bipartisan style, which may be why The New York Times endorsed him as "the only plausible choice for Republicans tired of the extremism and inexperience on display in this race."
But that probably isn't enough to carry Kasich through the primary race. At this point, he's all but emptied his campaign purse in New Hampshire and he faces a tough slog through the south, where the primary battle now swings to South Carolina, and the Super Tuesday (March 1) states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Texas, among others. This will be tough for Kasich, a Midwestern moderate, to survive.
Still, if he can survive the south and keep enough money coming in to carry him through a few more weeks, Kasich can presumably do well in the friendlier territory of the Midwest, including March contests in Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois.
It could be argued that a contentious, divided race, in which a number of candidates soldier on, draining their resources on attacking each other, favors Kasich.
That said, Kasich's best hope at this point is to be the last man standing, says Jim Broussard, professor of history at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Penn.
"Kasich’s only way forward is if he’s the only alternative to Ted Cruz and Donald Trump," says Professor Broussard. "There are two races happening simultaneously. Cruz and Trump going head to head and then Kasich, Bush, Rubio and Christie battling it out. Kasich’s biggest hope is that neither Rubio or Bush do very well in South Carolina or Nevada. It’s similar to John McCain’s policy in 2008 of just trying to be the last man standing. If that’s the case, he might be people’s reluctant last stand against either Trump or Cruz."