One of the many curiosities of the 2016 presidential field is how hard it has been for a popular, swing state governor with a long track record of accomplishments to gain traction in this race.
But John Kasich’s second-place showing in New Hampshire’s primary has suddenly jolted his second-tier candidacy. With the race pivoting to South Carolina, the Ohio governor is getting a second look from Republicans still seeking an alternative to front-runner Donald Trump.
Kasich has stood out in the 2016 presidential field for a message that is rooted in the “compassionate conservative” ethos, which helped propel George W. Bush to the White House.
In an ABC interview Wednesday morning, Kasich again struck a tone that is a stark contrast to Trump’s tough-talking style.
“And when we (grow the economy), we make sure we leave no one behind: the mentally ill, the drug addicted, working poor, everybody has a right to rise in America and to restore the spirit of this country,” Kasich said.
While Kasich’s compassionate message may seem like it could appeal across the swath of upcoming Southern states with decisive blocs of Christian voters, Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz have been dominating in polls across the South.
In South Carolina, Kasich has barely registered in polls to date.
His New Hampshire victory could shake up that reality, particularly as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has stumbled following his poor debate performance.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s still-struggling campaign is unlikely to pose a threat to Kasich at the ballot box, but attack ads from Bush’s well-financed allies could weigh Kasich down.
The March 1 contests also present a huge hurdle for Kasich. Ten of the 13 states holding “Super Tuesday” contests have minimum thresholds to quality for delegates.
Cruz’s home state of Texas, for instance, has a 20 percent threshold. So do Georgia and Tennessee. Kasich’s 16 percent New Hampshire finish wouldn’t be good enough to nab him a single delegate in any of those states.
Kasich suggested to ABC that he would remain in the race after Super Tuesday, at least through mid-March, when more moderate states like Michigan, Illinois and his home state of Ohio cast their votes.
The challenge for Kasich — and for that matter, Rubio and Bush — is whether they can make it past March 1 without winning a single state and still be viewed as viable candidates for the nomination.