Just when Ohio media thought it was safe and smart to keep John Kasich’s name afloat as a viable candidate for president in 2020, polling released Friday shows he’s already the biggest loser in a list of Republican White House hopefuls now topped by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

The vice presidential debate performance by Pence appears to have earned him status as the Republican league leader in 2020 if Donald Trump loses to Hillary Clinton this year, as more polls show will be the case.

Coddling John Kasich has been the standard for Ohio’s mainstream media over his nearly six years as governor. With one scandal after another begging to be investigated, from promoting billions going to fraudulent charter schools to state staff goldbricking on their time sheets to campaign for his reelection to shamelessly bilking taxpayers for protection costs as he toured the country this year in his long, losing campaign to be crowned the GOP’s presidential nominee, print and TV outlets have chosen to turn a blind eye to stories their investigative reporters could have pursued but chose not to.

Gov. Pence, whose calm demeanor in the face of his running mate Donald Trump’s bombastic persona has become a story, was pummeled on the facts by Democratic vice presidential nominee Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, when the two met for their only debate. Pence, who describes himself as a Christian, conservative and Republican in that order, couldn’t fend off Kaine’s accurate attacks on Trump’s statements on a variety of topics, but got credit for not unwinding in public as he hemmed and hawed in one evasive answer after another.

His performance during and after the debate has catapulted him to top status as the favorite four years from now to take on incumbent Clinton, whose lead over the Trump-Pence ticket is growing and consolidating as reliable scientific polls shows is happening.

In 2020, John Kasich will have been out of elected office for two years, and based on his poor fundraising this year and losing 49 state primaries as Donald Trump pounded him and another dozen or more challengers, speculating about this worth four years from now, as newspapers like the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Columbus Dispatch are particularly disposed to do, seems an exercise in fantasy land punditry. How an out of sight and out of mind candidate like Kasich, who will be 68 years old in 2020, is expected to do better than he did this year when he was a sitting governor with a trumped up reputation as a turnaround governor who knows how to bring people together because he’s the adult in the room earns reporters who dare take that tact an A+ for creative writing.

“Twenty-two percent of Republicans say Pence is their No. 1 choice to be the next GOP nominee if Hillary Clinton knocks off Trump in November,” Politico writes today. “Pence is beating Speaker Paul Ryan and Trump himself by nine percentage points, according to a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll of 1,989 registered voters this week. Twelve percent of Republicans polled said they’d like to see Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) run again, 11 percent favor Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and just 7 percent are holding out hope Ohio Gov. John Kasich mounts another bid.”

Another hurdle that could ding the hopes of the former 18-year congressman could be a requirements by the Republican Party that its candidates, to be eligible to run in the party’s primary season, release their tax returns. Biten this year by Donald Trump’s refusal to release his, for fear it would reveal how he’s gamed the system, maybe illegally, John Kasich’s taxes are also a mystery to voters.

When he ran for governor the first time in 2010, he allowed selected reporters to spend a short period of time going over just one year of his tax returns, with the stipulation they couldn’t copy them but only bring paper and pencil. When he jumped into the presidential race this year, he was able to continue to keep years of his tax returns hidden from prying public eyes. Kasich watchers have long said his tax returns would reveal much about the governor’s finances he didn’t want the public to find out.

Now that John Kasich is on the outs with both Trump world and national Republican Party leaders who refuse to abandon the Donald, and say those who have, like Gov. Kasich, might not find open arms welcoming them to the party in 2020, refusing to release many more years worth of his tax returns than he’s been willing to do so far could become another nail in his coffin.