Ohio Gov. John Kasich is one of several candidates banking on a good showing in the first primary state of New Hampshire to propel his campaign to the nomination. National Journal has a story on Kasich this morning regarding his efforts to “thread the needle” on policy, but that description could just as easily apply to his strategy:
Now that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is out of the race, Kasich is perhaps the only candidate running for president who touts his own unpopularity with voters….
That Kasich is not only unafraid to talk about his own unpopularity in his home state, but uses that as an example of his leadership skills, suggests that he won’t be dropping out of the race any time soon. He’s polling in seventh nationally, but Kasich is running a New Hampshire-centric campaign in the hopes that it will catapult him to the top come January. On Tuesday, he noted that campaigning in the Granite State, with its 1.2 million residents, has a lower activation energy than big, politically volatile Iowa….
Kasich boasts that his campaign has the best New Hampshire organization in the entire field, and so far he’s done 18 town halls in the state to try to better acquaint himself with primary voters there….
It’s a strategy that appears to be only somewhat working: He may be polling 10th in Iowa, but he’s fifth in New Hampshire.
The strategy worked for McCain in a far less crowded field in 2008, but skipping Iowa has always held the risk that some other candidate might establish himself or herself as the main rival to the frontrunner with an Iowa victory or strong showing, as former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum arguably did in 2012 by eclipsing former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who had not campaigned in Iowa.
Perhaps with this history in mind, Kasich appears to have decided to compete in Iowa (as has New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie), according to recent news articles, such as this article from The Hill a few days ago:
John Kasich and Chris Christie are shifting their focus to Iowa after spending months running almost exclusively in New Hampshire….
Kasich and Christie see an opening with the fiscal conservatives who in 2012 nearly propelled Mitt Romney to a victory in the Iowa caucuses. And they recognize the need for momentum coming out of the Hawkeye State, when the race turns to New Hampshire, where both men are staking their campaigns.
“It’s a smart political move,” said Craig Robinson, former Iowa Republican Party political director. “They’re not going to be putting all of their eggs in this basket, but I’ve been saying for a while — the establishment candidate that makes a serious play for Iowa could win here.”
Kasich’s campaign has noticeably increased its activity in Iowa, including hiring staff:
On Wednesday, Kasich made only his fifth visit to Iowa this year. He has been to New
Hampshire 16 times, and his campaign has talked openly about its commitment to the Granite State.
But in mid-September, the Kasich campaign hired its first two staffers in Iowa, the first indication he intends to play there.
Now, Kasich’s campaign says he intends to visit Iowa more frequently. The campaign says it has about two-dozen activists ready to go to work. It will roll out endorsements from influential members of the business community soon and plans to tap regional captains to engage with grassroots supporters on the ground.
Kasich’s political director in Iowa is quoted suggesting the focus remains on New Hampshire, but they recognize that finishing toward the bottom in Iowa is likely to hurt the campaign heading into the Granite State’s primary the following week.
Kasich was a late entrant to the race, but his performance in the first debate drew praise (his second performance was less well regarded) and for more than three weeks starting shortly after that first debate he was in second place in New Hampshire, according to RealClearPolitics.com, suggesting that when given the opportunity he can connect well with voters.
Whether he can find additional opportunities and turn in more quality performances, particularly in Iowa and New Hampshire, will help determine whether his campaign will “thread the needle” in Iowa and come out of the early contests in strong shape, or emerge on the verge of collapse.