Ohio Gov. John Kasich has already ventured to New Hampshire and South Carolina, and will add Iowa and Nevada to the list of early primary state he’s going to, now that he’s assured the world with the hiring of two new, controversial campaign compadres that he’s in the race for the White House for real.

When he leaves Iowa, where the “Music Man” governor said he didn’t want to go, and returns from Nevada, where resides the sugar daddy of all GOP sugar daddies, Sheldon Adelson, he’ll have some fairy dust to sprinkle on his long-shot chance to be the GOP nominee to take on Democrats and their nominee next year.

Boasting of a big win in last year’s race for governor, the now twice elected governor, who won by a lopsided margin in a low turnout election in which fewer than one in four registered voters bothered to vote for him, got great headlines and strong talking points Wednesday from a Public Policy Polling survey showing the former congressman and Fox News TV show host leads the big and growing field of GOP wannabes, albeit it by a narrow margin. Hillary Clinton, despite her weak points, is still expected to be the Democratic nominee in 2016, and won Ohio in 2008 when she beat Barack Obama.

In this Buckeye-centric poll, Gov. Kasich, long a household name after four years of intense front page and editorial page coverage, tops the former first lady 47-40. But in reliable, trusted national polling, her win margin may shrink but she’s still the odds on favorite to beat any Republican challenger.

Homestate Governor Only Gets 19%

PPP said Kasich would be the first choice of Republican primary voters in his home state with 19 percent compared to 13 for Dr. Ben Carson, the only Black on the GOP side, who currently doesn’t hold elective office. Carson is joined at 13 percent by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is tied with Senator Marco Rubio at 12 percent, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is at 9 percent, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is at six percent, Texas Senator Ted Cruz is at five percent and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is last at four percent.

In a related survey by a union of Ohio conservative Tea Party groups, Gov. Kasich barely registers, whereas Sen. Cruz tops the pick of Buckeye Tea Party groups who helped Kasich win his close election in 2010 but who soon abandoned him after his election for, among many moves, accepting an expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Ohio GOP voters approve of Kasich by 72 percent compared to 17 percent who disapprove. Kasich still performs “unspectacularly” with voters on the right in the primary, and among “very conservative” voters, PPP finds he manages just a tie for third place with Marco Rubio at 12 percent. Meanwhile, Dr. Ben Carson and Gov. Walker, the former at 19 and the later at 17 percent, respectively, validate how Tea Party people feel about their go-go CEO chief executive. In the category of centrists, Jeb Bush and John Kasich deadlock at at 23 percent.

For all of Gov. Kasich’s popularity, Florida Sen. Rubio has the highest favorability rating among GOP voters in Ohio, which PPP said aligns with findings elsewhere. Gov. Kasich has often said ho much he “loves” Gov. Christie, but his love doesn’t extend to Ohio voters, who show Christie is outwardly disliked by GOP voters. In context, PPP, who reputation for accuracy is high, says Christie is the next least popular Republican tested.

Other Views, Other Voices

Others who looked at the PPP numbers aren’t so sanguine about Kasich’s popularity. “Gov. Kasich is so popular among Ohio GOP, but can only manage 19 percent as first choice,” one political watcher told me. “Empty suit alert.”

A harsher view of Kasich’s launch, based on his two new hires of John Weaver and Fred Davis, is that he’s living up to his god-given potential to be a hit man on his competitors. Red State editorial writer Erick Erikson writes that Republicans don’t run for president by hiring consultants “who hate the Republican base to run the campaign of a Republican who says publicly Jesus wants him to expand government. One runs that way to destroy others within the primary process.”

“The only thing John Weaver and Fred Davis have excelled at of late is making money off failures running for office,” Erickson zinged Team Kasich. “The only thing Kasich has excelled at in the press is attacking other Republicans claiming Jesus and St. Peter will send them all to hell unless they too embrace Obamacare. This isn’t a Presidential campaign, it is John Wilkes Booth acting on a debate stage until he can take out another Republican. Metaphorically speaking, of course.”

In a biting article titled “John Kasich’s Quest for Glorious Martyrdom,” found in New York Magazine, author Jonathan Chait writes John Kasich “stands virtually no chance of success, if you define ‘success’ to mean acquiring the nomination.” Chait goes on to to say that Kasich defines success as something else altogether. He says Kasich, as the chairman of the House Budget Committee during what was then called “the Republican Revolution,” “tried to steer the revolution his way. He failed.” Then Congressman Kasich’s populist ambitions “dissolved into empty platitudes,” Chait wrote, “[Kasich] was the kind of populist figure his party’s Establishment liked having around — long on folksy slogans, short on substantive disagreement.”

Chait quotes Republican health care adviser Avik Roy, now a part of former Texas governor Rick Perry’s team, saying about the governor of Ohio, “The chances of John Kasich marrying Kate Upton are higher than the chances of John Kasich contending for the GOP nomination.”

Chait’s article ends with reflections Team Kasich won’t like about hiring former McCain campaign guru John Weaver. “The drama of Kasich’s campaign lies not in whether he can win, but rather in whether he is willing to lose gloriously, and whether he can attract enough support to force his adversaries to grant him political martyrdom.”

Clinton Still Strong

Hillary Clinton remains as dominant as ever on the Democratic side, PPP notes, since she polls at 61 percent to 13 percent for Sen. Bernie Sanders, 7 percent for little known former three-term Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg, 2 percent each for Sen Lincoln Chafee and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and 1 percent for former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb.

The wife of former two-term president Bill Clinton, Mrs. Clinton is polling over 70 percent with African Americans, over 60 percent with liberals, women, and seniors, and over 50 percent with moderates, men, and younger voters, PPP notes. “There’s no major demographic group within the Democratic electorate she fails to receive majority support from,” it said in its release.

Except where Gov. Kasich leads former Secretary of State Clinton 47/40 in a hypothetical contest, the general election match ups in Ohio are generally close. “Kasich boasts a solid 49/35 approval rating following his resounding reelection victory last year….The key to Kasich’s advantage is that 89% of Republicans support him, compared to 75% of Democrats for Clinton,” results found.

Asked on a conference call with reporters about the PPP poll, Ohio’s senior Senator Sherrod Brown, whose own popularity among Ohio voters remains high, said he doesn’t put much stock in these very early polls. “I’m not tuned into the race,” he said. What could go wrong for Kasich and right for Clinton, Sen. Brown said, is that it’s his perception that Americans are generally unhappy with the GOP controlled congress. He said it’s even more dysfunctional than before, saying it can’t pass a highway bill and might terminate the Export-Import Bank. Kasich voted twice as a congressman to renew the bank, but now says he opposes it. For Sen. Brown, a strong voice for workers, job growth is his key concern.

Hillary Clinton doesn’t only trail Kasich in Ohio, she also trails Rand Paul but by a narrow margin 44/41; she ties Marco Rubio at 44 but still enjoys a small advantages over the rest of the GOP field: 44/43 over Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Scott Walker, 45/43 over Jeb Bush, 44/41 over Chris Christie, and 45/42 over Mike Huckabee.

“Clinton may not be polling great against the Republicans in Ohio but there’s still a huge gap between how she fares and how any other Democrat do in a general election match up,” PPP noted.

Larry J. Sabato, university professor of politics and director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, wrote that while campaigns may just be starting for real, and with no votes have been cast, there’s much that has already been determined.

“Voters in presidential races are overwhelmingly hunkered down in their respective party camps,” he said, noting that less than a tenth of the electorate will be made up of “pure independents,” and their voting habits suggest that they’ll split relatively evenly in the end, barring a major economic shock or other big unforeseen event.

Sabato like Sen. Brown, doesn’t hold much stock in horse race polls this far out, especially because the Republican field lacks an outright frontrunner. Hillary Clinton may not be the automatic favorite to win the presidency, he says, “but she’s not an underdog, either … This far in advance, the only logical nonpartisan projection is an election likely to be close and competitive.”

A former two-term Senator from New York State, Hillary Clinton has an far easier path to 270 electoral votes based on recent presidential election cycle history, but Sabato offers a hint or worry for Democrats when he observes that a national swing toward the GOP of just 2 or 3 points from Obama’s reelection win “would probably wash away the so-called ‘blue wall.’” President Obama’s underwater ratings are not terrible but not great, he says, and it could harm Democratic chances next year. Mrs. Clinton will also have to “fight a generic public desire for change as she seeks a third straight Democratic White House term,” he said.

Kasich Up In Ohio But Experts See Other Winners

Gov. Kasich may be smiling today, but he may not be smiling later, Sabato said, because the handwriting on the wall seems to favor three others. “What of the other GOP candidates?” he questions” “They all have advantages, as we’ve outlined elsewhere. A few will manage to win some primaries or caucuses. But if winning in November is the goal, Republicans will settle on Bush, Rubio or Walker. Some of the other candidates are too far right to win swing states, others are controversial and divisive within the party itself, still more are novices who have never held elective office, or retreads and golden oldies whose time has passed. It may look like an enormous, amorphous field of candidates, but already it’s clear that three candidates loom large.”

Stay The Winning Coarse

With the vote for president still over 500 days away, the path to the White House for Hillary Clinton is pretty clear for many, whereas the GOP’s path, and Mr. Kasich’s in particular, is far more difficult to discern. For Clinton, abandoning the Obama coalition for something else blows to the advantage of other GOP candidates including Kasich. Partisan politics has turned into a blood sport so while anything is possible, not everything is probably.

Partisanship is new heights along with the role big money plays in modern elections. With a torrent of political campaigning still to come, when the voting starts, the same coalition that elected America’s first African-American president will consider the alternative of a Republican in the White House and decide to form a union again in order to elect the first woman president. If Democrats fail next year to do what they’ve done twice in 2008 and 2012, all progress achieved through hard fought elections will be lost to history. To elect any Republican, including and especially Gov. Kasich, is to see time go backwards. Unraveling, replacing, eliminating, cutting, downsizing and privatizing will be the grapes of wrath from total GOP control.

Barack Obama’s campaign excited enough younger voters, women and minorities. Hillary Clinton must win Obama’s set of swing states, most especially Ohio, which voted for him twice nationally and once for her in 2008. If she can expand that path even a little bit, she’ll be the victor as he was twice before even though Beltway pundits and journalists will say it can’t be done. National media will criticize her for not abandoning Obama’s road to victory, but she and her campaign strategists know that is absolutely the losing strategy. Staying the course that was successful before is her mission and the winning strategy. Smart Democrat, independents and moderates know not to mess with a good thing.

 

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