Several large states vote tomorrow including two states, Florida and Ohio, that are home to two of the four remaining Republican candidates for president. Both are winner-take-all on the GOP side, raising the stakes significantly from past contests where delegates were divvied up between competing candidates in most cases.
While businessman Donald Trump leads Sen. Marco Rubio in Rubio’s home state of Florida according to recent polling, the race in Ohio is neck-and-neck between Trump and Gov. John Kasich, as CBS News reports:
Donald Trump keeps his lead in winner-take-all Florida, at 44 percent over Ted Cruz's 24 percent and Marco Rubio's 21 percent. In Ohio, Governor John Kasich is tied with Trump 33 percent to 33 percent, in two of the big winner-take-all delegate prizes up on Tuesday.
In Florida, home-state Sen. Marco Rubio has been trying to get traction against Trump, but still trails. Sen. Ted Cruz has overtaken Rubio in Florida. In Illinois Trump also leads, 38 percent to 34 percent over Cruz, who is in striking distance, with Kasich back at 16 percent. The findings across the three states may suggests Cruz is emerging more generally in the minds of many non-Trump voters as the alternative to the frontrunner.
The stakes in Florida and Ohio are huge for not only Kasich and Rubio, who likely need to win their home states to continue their campaigns, but also for Trump: While winning both doesn’t guarantee him the nomination, without them it would be very difficult for him to accumulate the needed 1,237 delegates to win on the first ballot of the Republican convention.
Since Rubio trails Trump in Florida (and Cruz as well), the most likely chance to stop Trump is a Kasich win in Ohio. National Journal describes in some depth this morning how the Kasich campaign is working to win the state:
No presidential candidate has quite enjoyed home-field advantage like Kasich has in 2016. While the Texas and Florida Republican parties remained neutral even with favorite sons Ted Cruz and Rubio running, the Ohio GOP has thrown its full weight behind the home-state governor. The party’s state central committee took the unusual step to endorse Kasich earlier this year, and since then, local officials and activists have made phone calls, knocked on doors, encouraged early voting, and spoke at local functions to help elect Kasich….
They made their biggest push yet this weekend: [Ohio Republican Party chairman Matt] Borges said he hoped to have close to 1,000 volunteers across the state knocking on doors of Republican and unaffiliated voters. On top of that, the super PAC New Day for America has 30 paid staffers across eight offices dedicated to get-out-the vote efforts, according to spokeswoman Connie Wehrkamp. Meanwhile, the other campaigns don’t have much of a ground operation to speak of in Ohio….
In addition, the Ohio GOP sent a slate card featuring names of all of its endorsed candidates, with Kasich at the front of the list, to any voter who requested a Republican absentee ballot. As of Tuesday, 168,000 Republican absentee ballots had been requested in Ohio, 84,000 of which were cast, according to the secretary of state’s office.
Kasich doesn’t just have the backing of the state party in Ohio, he also received a qualified endorsement from Rubio, who urged his supporters in the state to back their governor in an effort to deny Trump the state’s delegate haul.
Rubio isn’t the only one giving Kasich a qualified, Ohio-specific endorsement – 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney is also campaigning in the state for the governor, as NBC News reports:
Mitt Romney will campaign with John Kasich Monday at two stops in Ohio, NBC News has learned from a source familiar with the plans.
Romney is not expected to endorse the Ohio governor during the campaign swing, the source said, but it will be the first time Romney has campaigned on behalf of a Republican candidate this cycle….
Romney is expected to appear with Kasich at his events in Canton and outside Columbus Monday afternoon. The trips come one day before the crucial Ohio primary, a must-win for Kasich, as Trump ups his attacks on the sitting governor.
A Kasich win in Ohio would be important, although it’s not clear what it does to move him much closer to the Republican nomination, as The Washington Post explains this morning:
A Kasich victory on Tuesday, coupled with a loss by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida in his home state, would leave the Ohio governor as the lone mainstream conservative in the race.
But even under the best of circumstances, his path to the nomination remains highly problematic. The road remains blocked not only by Trump but by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who is currently running second in delegates. No one has won the nomination in the modern era following the path that Kasich is on.
Victory in Ohio is only the minimum down payment. Even if Kasich wins all 66 of Ohio’s delegates plus more from the four other states with contests that day, the numbers are daunting. After Tuesday, 1,463 of the 2,472 Republican delegates will have been chosen.
If Kasich were to win every one of the remaining delegates, improbable as that is, he would still be short of the 1,237 needed for nomination.
Unlike Major League baseball and other sports, however, where teams are routinely marked as “mathematically eliminated” from contention at a certain point once it becomes impossible for them to overtake other teams for a playoff spot, being unable to win enough delegates to claim a majority may just be an inconvenience on the way to the nomination. If the Republican convention is contested with nobody having received a majority of delegates, a “mainstream conservative” governor from a crucial battleground state might look appealing to a lot of delegates after the first ballot fails to select a nominee. The bottom line is, Kasich isn’t out of the running yet.