Ohio Gov. John Kasich and his top aides worked Monday evening to reassure supporters and potential delegates of the soundness of his position in the Republican race—and in a potential contested convention.
During an hour-long conference call after Kasich’s final town hall event in Wisconsin ahead of the state’s April 5 primary, the candidate addressed delegates and potential delegates to the GOP convention in Cleveland, as well as top donors and volunteers, to reassure them he has no intention of dropping out of the race. “I am going to continue to go forward,” Kasich said. He called reports that he’d be open to serving as anyone’s Vice President “the biggest joke in town.”
Kasich and his senior advisers maintain that the Republican race is heading for a contested convention—with no candidate having the 1,237 delegates required to win the nomination on the first ballot. They highlighted their efforts, led by veteran operatives Michael Biundo and Andrew Boucher, to woo delegates pledged to their rivals should that happen.
“Of the 10 Republican contested conventions, only three times did the front-runner become the Republican nominee,” Kasich said, adding that he hoped the delegates will consider who is the most electable candidate against Hillary Clinton in the fall if the convention vote goes to multiple ballots. “I am the only person who consistently beats Hillary Clinton,” he said. In surveys, Kasich is indeed consistently best-positioned in head-to-head match-ups with Clinton, while Donald Trump loses in reputable surveys and Ted Cruz polls significantly tighter with Clinton.
Former New Hampshire Sen. John Sununu, a top Kasich adviser, added that a contested convention “is uncharted territory” in the modern era, and told supporters they would have a front row seat to history. “[Delegates] are going to be on television talking about how they are bound to Donald Trump on the first ballot, but why they don’t want to support him on a second or third ballot because Donald Trump loses in a general,” he said.
Sununu added that the campaign’s pitch to convention delegates wouldn’t just be about who could win the White House, but would also highlight the impact on down-ballot races if Trump or Cruz wins the nomination.
“This isn’t just about the presidency—it’s about controlling Congress as well,” he said.
“In New Hampshire… if Ted Cruz is at the top of the ticket, we will likely lose that Senate seat,” Sununu said, arguing that a Trump nomination would also imperil GOP-held Senate seats in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin. “If Ted Cruz or Donald Trump are at the top of the ticket, we will likely lose control of the U.S. Senate.” Other aides compared their rivals candidates to candidates who lost general elections by blowout margins, like Barry Goldwater and George McGovern.
Kasich strategist John Weaver argued that Cruz’s campaign, like Kasich’s, is unable to reach 1,237 delegates by the first ballot. Kasich would have to win all the remaining delegates and then some, while it’s mathematically possible for Cruz, but would require him winning about 90% of the remaining delegate—an improbable haul. “That’s only possible in fantasyland,” Sununu said.
Weaver said that with the race shifting toward the northeast, where Kasich is stronger, the media narrative will shift in his favor. “Give it another week-and-a-half or two weeks and it’ll change dramatically,” he said. Weaver added that the campaign is beginning advertising in New York state on Tuesday—three weeks out from the state’s April 19 primary, and would go up in Pennsylvania two weeks before its April 26 contest.
“We’re treating each of the campaigns coming up as if we were running for governor in those states,” Weaver said.
Fielding questions about Kasich’s tough path and plans to draw contrast with Cruz and Trump, Weaver noted that the GOP convention is set to take place in Cleveland—a city in Kasich’s home state in the midst of an urban renewal.
“The delegates will arrive to a fantastic city that’s on the rebound thanks in large part to the policies pushed through by Gov. Kasich over the last five years,” Weaver said. The campaign is planning to have “literally thousands and thousands of Kasich volunteers in the city” during the convention, he said.