Today’s New Hampshire primary doesn’t mean a great deal in terms of delegates to be elected to the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. It’s one of the least populated states. Where it will count is in who finishes top of the “sensible” candidates. Mr. Trump is a buffoon whom the majority of Americans dislike. Mr. Cruz is a hard-right yahoo who may not win all the GOP votes to be had in a general election. Among the others is a group of conservative pragmatists: Messrs. Rubio, Bush (Jeb!), Christie, and Kasich. That is the finishing order the Democrats should desire because Mr. Kasich is a real threat to them.
First and foremost, the general election will revolve around the experience of the candidate. Mr. Kasich spent 18 years in the House of Representatives, all of them on the Armed Services Committee, six as chairman of the Budget Committee. He is now in his second term as Ohio’s governor. He has also been in the private sector as a commentator on Fox News and as managing director of Lehman Brothers in Ohio.
Second, he is conservative without being flamboyantly inflexible about it. He opposes abortion and has supported a requirement that women about to have an abortion also have an ultasound. He has backed prison privatization. He opposes medical marijuana. Yet, he cancelled the public funding formulas of his predecessor and proposed new guidelines that would have sent more money to poor districts. And he acknowledges that climate change is real and that humanity needs to do something about it. In its endorsement of him, the New York Times wrote, “Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, though a distinct underdog, is the only plausible choice for Republicans tired of the extremism and inexperience on display in this race.”
Third, he has a narrative that sells. The grandson of immigrants, son of a mail carrier, Mr. Kasich has none of the pedigree issues thatMr. Bush has. He can speak to the immigrant experience in ways that Hispanic voters can understand at a personal and emotional level, yet he is reassuringly white to those who fear the browning of the nation. He didn’t go to an Ivy League college; he’s a product of The Ohio State University (locals insist on using the definite article as part of the name).
Fourth, and probably the most important factor, he is the Governor of Ohio and a very popular one at that. As recently as October, he had record levels of approval among his state’s voters. Politico reported at the time, “More than six in 10 — 62 percent — said they approve of the job their governor is doing. Kasich, a GOP presidential candidate, drew just 29 percent disapproval. The numbers are in line with Kasich’s previous high of 61 percent to 28 percent in August, still within the statistical margin of error.”
The importance of that final point cannot be understated. Politico recently reported on a University of Virginia study that suggests that there are really just 85 electoral votes that are toss-ups. Ranging from leaning to being safely in one camp or another, the study puts 246 votes in the Democratic column and 206 in the GOP’s. Those states that are competitive are: Florida with 29 electoral votes, Ohio with 18, Virginia with 13, Colorado with 9, Iowa and Nevada with 6 each, and Vermont with 3. While Messrs. Bush and Rubio are native sons of Florida, they are not doing very well in Florida’s polls — Mr. Trump leads both by quite a bit. With Mr. Kasich at the top of the ticket, Ohio moves comfortably to the Republican column.
Mrs. Clinton remains the likely candidate for the Democrats, and probably the next president — even if she loses to Mr. Sanders tonight (a several drubbing is expected). That shouldn’t scare her people. What should give them pause is if Mr. Kasich finishes in the top three in the Republican side. If he gets the attention, he will get the money and the votes to be a solid challenger.