Ohio Governor John Kasich submits that because he currently beats Hillary Clinton in national match-up polls and is the governor of Ohio, he should be the nominee for the Republican Party. Plus, there was that “big” reelection win in 2014. Most serious political analysts don’t give national polls this far out a lot of weight given how much will change between now and the election. Kasich also has received the least amount of scrutiny compared to Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Ben Carson, so any national poll favors his blank slate over Clinton’s known baggage.
For example, in the most recent match-up poll, 43% of voters don’t know or have no opinion of Kasich, while 51% have unfavorable views of Clinton. Kasich’s blank slate is more than twice as high as Trump’s, Rubio’s, Cruz’s, and Carson’s numbers. It isn’t surprising he does better against Clinton than the other our Republican candidates. The other four candidates all have received significant media coverage, with much of it negative.
Let’s face it, he is this election’s moderate the media fawns over and barely vets until he becomes the nominee. Other candidates largely ignore him because he polls so low in nearly every state. He can safely play the “can’t we all get along” role knowing no serious candidate will expend vital time or resources exposing his actual record of mediocre job growth (24th best), high spending (over 37%), tax shifting (income tax down, but business and sales taxes up), and out-of-control Medicaid expansion rolls more than twice his estimate (650,000 v 275,000). Should he somehow win the nomination, the media will go after his record full throttle, which will drive up his unfavorable numbers and drive down his match-up numbers against Clinton.
At any rate, let’s ignore Kasich’s logic for a minute and run down the state of play.
If Kasich wins Ohio on March 15 where he currently is in second place, he will have won a single state out of 30 states that held primaries or caucuses up to that date. Other than his weaker-than-Jon Huntsman (who got 16.9% for 3rd place in 2012) 15.8% 2nd place finish in New Hampshire, he will have been close to last in 27 Republican nomination elections, with Massachusetts giving him a potential 3rd place finish. Based on the last six elections, New Hampshire and Massachusetts are almost certainly going to vote for the Democratic candidate in November, so Kasich’s showing in those states is largely meaningless.
In contrast, Trump has won three out of four elections, including in Kasich’s New Hampshire and the battleground state of Nevada, and took 2nd place to Cruz in Iowa possibly due to the Carson quitting rumor spreading trick. Based on current polling (see the table below), Trump could win at least eleven more states by March 16 and snag several 2nd place finishes. Cruz could up his wins to three on Super Tuesday by adding Texas and Arkansas and pull 2nd place in four other states (Minnesota, Oklahoma, Alaska, and North Carolina) by March 16. As for Rubio, he already has two 2nd place finishes and may hit March 16 with a couple of wins and a slew of additional 2nd place finishes.
So, while Kasich finishes in the top three in potentially three states out of thirty, Trump, Rubio, and Cruz will finish in the top three in nearly all thirty states, including in all five battleground states. What are battleground states and why do those states matter?
As I detailed here, voters in five key battleground states will decide the 2016 presidential election: Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia. The other states will vote for the Democratic and Republican candidates as those states did in the last six presidential elections. Because of the Electoral College advantage Democratic candidates enter the general election with, the Republican candidate must secure nearly all of the battleground states to win the presidency. Kasich’s rightful focus on Ohio as a battleground state is only part of the story, however.
If the Democratic candidate wins Florida, Ohio, or Virginia, the election is over. Even if the Republican candidate pulls out surprise wins in Iowa, New Hampshire, and New Mexico (the only “light blue” states), a loss in Florida ends the election, as the Democratic candidate would hit 271 Electoral Votes. That reality makes Florida the most important battleground state, followed by Ohio and Virginia.
While I don’t give much credence to national general election match-ups this far out, the most recent match-up polls from battleground states show that Trump would defeat Clinton in Florida, with Cruz and Rubio down to her by 6% and 8%, respectively. The survey companies didn’t even test Kasich given how low he polls among Republicans (5.0%) in Florida. In Ohio, Trump, Rubio, Cruz and Kasich all beat Clinton, with Kasich beating her the most solidly by 17 percent.
Among Nevada Republican voters, one poll right before the Nevada caucuses indicating who had the best chance to win in November had Kasich in 4th place with just 4% of the vote – four times less than 3rd place Cruz’s 16% and mere fraction of Trump’s 56 percent. Colorado and Virginia will vote on Super Tuesday, so we should see match-up polling soon from those states.
Let’s return to Kasich’s match-up logic. Based on Trump’s strength in both Florida and Ohio against Clinton and the belief among Nevada Republicans that he has the best chance to win in November, Republican primary and caucus voters seem to be getting it right by voting for Trump. I don’t necessarily agree, as I think it is likely a Trump nomination will ensure a Clinton win in November, but this is about Kasich’s logic, not mine.
If Kasich only manages to get 2nd place in Ohio as the current governor, then his claim to the nomination will be weaker than Rubio’s claim, as at least Rubio will have added 2nd place finishes in the battleground states of Virginia and Nevada to his likely 2nd place finish in Florida where he is just a U.S. Senator (governors get far more coverage and, therefore, are more well known in their states than senators). Both men appear headed to 4th place finishes in each other’s state. Colorado remains a polling enigma at this point.
Polls are great, but the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day. Republicans need a nominee who can win in the five battleground states that will decide the 2016 election. Given Kasich’s limited appeal in the first 30 primary and caucus states, especially in all of the battleground states except Ohio, it is clear his logic is deeply flawed.
In sports, the last place team midway through the season may pull off a big win or two, but odds are that team won’t make it to the playoffs. The reason the team did so poorly in the first half of the season is based on lots of problems that don’t magically disappear after the all-star break. Find me a last place team that made it to the finals and I’ll put more credibility in Kasich’s logic.
Winning in politics means more than picking off a state or two. History is filled with men who won Iowa or New Hampshire, but melted away in the spring thaw of Super Tuesday. It means more than being the last governor standing because you didn’t compete in twenty-seven out of thirty states. History is full of those guys, too. It means more than letting ego keep you in the race long after men who put the party before themselves bowed out. History gave us countless men who could MacGyver a path to the nomination only a statistician would endorse.
Winning means consistently being at the top by beating the other guys state after state. If you can’t do that now, why in the world do you think you can do it on Election Day in November? Americans love winners because they win, not because they lose. Now that is some common sense logic. Too bad Kasich and Carson don’t heed it.
State Actual Results or Polling Averages
Only includes polls since January 1, 2016
Kasich Place (%)
8th out of 10 (1.9%)
2nd out of 7 (15.8%)
5th out of 6 (7.6%)
5th out of 5 (3.6%)
5th out of 5 (7.7%)
4th out of 5 (7.0%)
3rd out of 5 (16.0%)
5th out of 5 (2.0%)
5th out of 5 (4.0%)
5th out of 5 (8.0%)
Trump & Rubio (23%)
5th out of 5 (4.0%)
Tied 4th out of 5 (7.3%)
4th out of 5 (10.0%)
5th out of 5 (2.0%)
4th out of 5 (12.8%)
District of Columbia
5th out of 5 (5.0%)
5th out of 5 (6.8%)
4th out of 5 (11.0%)
2nd out of 5 (26.0%)