Kasich Camp in No Rush to Woo Delegates
With no mathematical path to lock up the Republican nomination during the normal primary process, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has publicly staked his presidential candidacy on winning an open convention in Cleveland.
But Kasich’s campaign is not laying the groundwork for such a victory, according to party insiders in more than half a dozen states where convention delegates have already been selected in part or in whole.
While representatives for Donald Trump and particularly Ted Cruz have maintained a visible presence at the state and congressional district meetings where many delegates are being selected, often identifying and rallying behind a slate of their preferred candidates, Kasich’s organization has been weak or nonexistent. As a result, only a small share of the delegates selected thus far would favor Kasich on a second or subsequent ballot at an open convention.
“You could call it a quiet approach, a quiet strategy,” said Emmalee Kalmbach, a Kasich spokesperson. The campaign has picked up “a handful” of delegates in Georgia and South Carolina recently, she noted, and Ohio’s delegates are hand-picked Kasich allies, having been selected automatically as a slate when he won his home state.
Meanwhile, the Kasich campaign is not ruling out trying to win over delegates who have pledged support to either Cruz or Trump. “We view this as a continuous courting process,” Kalmbach said.
But the Ohio governor’s campaign can point to few delegate victories thus far, with more than one-third of the delegates to the convention having already been selected.
At the 10th Congressional District convention in Ashburn, Va., last weekend, rows of Trump and Cruz yard signs lined the parking lot, while volunteers for each campaign distributed lists of their preferred delegates. The district, which backed Sen. Marco Rubio, would have been fertile ground for Kasich to try to pick up support.
But there were no Kasich yard signs, and no volunteers distributing delegate slates. Not one would-be delegate expressed support for the Ohio governor. One prominent Kasich supporter, former Rep. Tom Davis, did attend the convention; he thought there would be opportunities to sway delegates friendly to Cruz or Trump, but on this day he showed no signs of trying to persuade them to Kasich’s cause. Ultimately, supporters of Cruz won the three delegate slots.
This dynamic has played out repeatedly across the country. At the recent convention in North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District, near Raleigh, Kasich’s supporters “were not organized at all,” said Joyce Cotten, chairwoman of the Republican Party in that district. Of 23 nominees for delegate slots, Cotten said, not one expressed support for Kasich.
“I sort of expected an effort by all three campaigns,” Cotten added. “Trump had a person there. Cruz had a lot of people there.” Delegates friendly to Cruz swept that district’s convention and have dominated others in North Carolina so far.
Throughout Florida, said one senior Republican in the state, “there’s nothing going on” for Kasich. “Trump’s people have been engaging, Cruz’s people continue to engage, Trump more than Cruz,” the Florida Republican said. “But Kasich is nonexistent.”
Kasich’s campaign raised eyebrows last week when it announced a seemingly significant coup: a victory in Indiana, which votes next month but has already selected its delegates to the national convention. “Our team out-hustled the other campaigns & just secured the plurality of delegates that will represent IN at the convention,” Kasich tweeted. “Strong work!”
In fact, there was little organizational hustle involved. Craig Dunn, an Indiana delegate who would support Kasich on a second ballot at the convention, said the deadline to file delegate paperwork had passed in Indiana before any of the campaigns attempted to become involved.
“Trump’s people started sending blast emails out to people to file about a week or so after that filing deadline. Cruz’s people were later than that,” Dunn said. “Kasich’s [campaign] did nothing, there was no effort at any point in time.”
Multiple Indiana delegates confirmed to RCP that it is indeed possible, if not likely, that most delegates would organically support Kasich, or that the delegation would split evenly between Kasich and Cruz. Due to the manner and timing of delegate selection in the state, the delegation is comprised mostly of party insiders, many of whom attended the 2012 Republican National Convention as delegates. And Indiana is expected to be an unusually strong state for Kasich, in part because it borders Ohio.
But the Kasich campaign’s claim that it has secured a plurality of the state’s delegates seems to be based at least in part on guesswork. Multiple Indiana delegates reached by RCP have not yet been contacted by any of the campaigns, and many of them remain uncommitted, with some waiting to see how their state votes May 3.
“The Kasich campaign didn’t ask me who I was for, so I don’t know who they’re talking to,” said one Indiana delegate, Mike Murphy, who is uncommitted to any candidate for a second ballot. “How can they declare victory?”
Kalmbach, Kasich’s spokesperson, said the campaign is “confident that we have more delegates than Cruz or Trump” in Indiana.
Kasich’s campaign announced last month that its delegate-wrangling operations would be led by Mike Biundo, formerly of Rand Paul’s presidential campaign, and Andrew Boucher, an alum of Rick Santorum’s presidential bid. Their next targets, Kalmbach said, will be at state conventions this weekend in Utah and Maine, where the campaign plans to distribute delegate slates.
But that level of engagement would appear to be an exception for Kasich’s campaign thus far.
In the days prior to the South Carolina primary in February, Kasich made a campaign stop at an aircraft carrier in Mt. Pleasant, S.C., across the harbor from Charleston. The surrounding area was thought to be ripe for his candidacy. But when the same congressional district held its convention last weekend, Kasich’s campaign was nowhere to be found.
“People who should have been his supporters were in Charleston, and there was no visible campaign presence,” said John Steinberger, co-chair of Trump’s campaign there.
A few Kasich supporters in attendance, including state Rep. Chip Limehouse, did not wear campaign stickers, as did other candidates’ supporters, Steinberger observed. Cruz’s delegates ran the table.
At Kentucky’s 4th Congressional District convention this month, where Cruz loyalists ultimately cleaned up, not one would-be delegate mentioned Kasich. “It was all about Cruz and Trump,” said Troy Sheldon, chairman of the district’s Republican Party.
In Georgia’s 6th Congressional District convention Saturday, Kasich supporters won two slots as alternate delegates, according to local reports, although two Cruz supporters and one Trump backer were selected as delegates. But Kasich’s campaign was meanwhile absent from the nearby convention in the 11th Congressional District, which includes urban Buckhead.
“We certainly have establishment people in the district, but there was not an organized campaign here for Kasich like there was with Cruz and with Trump,” said Brad Carver, chairman of the district’s Republican Party.
Indeed, Carver experienced the organization of those campaigns firsthand when he was selected as one of three delegates to the national convention, along with two Cruz supporters. As he worked to lower a flag after the event, a Cruz campaign volunteer waited nearby until Carver finished, “and then was on me immediately.”
“He wanted to know who I voted for, whether I’ve ever been to a convention, have I ever served on committees, what’s my campaign history, where I was on a second ballot,” Carver recalled.
Carver, who is uncommitted, thought he might later be contacted by the Kasich campaign, too. “But,” he said, “I have not heard from them yet.”
Correction: Joyce Cotten's last name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.