Southern Swing

Kasich Tries to Expand His New Hampshire-Only Plan to South Carolina

Coming off his second-place finish in the Granite State, the road ahead for the Ohio governor looks challenging.

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Republican presidential candidate John Kasich talks to the crowd at the Auto-Ad agency on Feb. 10, 2016, in Charleston, South Carolina.

Photographer: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Republican John Kasich made 29 visits to New Hampshire that included 190 presidential campaign stops over the course of more than half a year. In South Carolina, he has less than 10 days.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Ohio governor made his first campaign stop in the Palmetto State after his momentum-generating, second-place finish in New Hampshire's primary.

After deploying an all-in strategy in New England, where he finished behind billionaire Donald Trump, Kasich has a huge challenge ahead of the Feb. 20 South Carolina primary and the other races that will rapidly follow. His strategy was that a strong finish in New Hampshire would boost his national profile and help fundraising. But money, staffing, tone and time are issues that are going to complicate his campaign's bid to replicating this week's achievement in the Palmetto State.

“We built an army of people who showed up in snow and rain, with a positive message,” he said Wednesday, still reveling in his second-place finish. “I wish you could have been there to see it.”

The standing room-only event at a pizza restaurant in suburban Charleston drew about 400 people, including dozens who waited outside in temperatures not much above freezing.  But it didn't take long for the anticipated hard-knuckle tactics of this race to be brought up by a questioner who asked Kasich whether he would continue to campaign in a mostly positive manner or if he would move to the “dark side.”

“I'm not going to be a pincushion or a marshmallow, but I'm also not going to spend my time trying to trash other people,” he said.

“We're going to do as well as we can here, and then we're moving on,” he told reporters after his event. “I'm really looking forward to the South. I'm really looking forward to the Midwest. I can't wait to go to Michigan.”

That state holds its primary March 8 and is a place where a Midwest governor such as Kasich might more easily find support. After that primary, Kasich has another prime opportunity when his home state of Ohio votes on March 15, and primary delegates are awarded on a winner-take-all basis.

Kasich got in the race late, on July 21, and surged from the back of the pack by focusing almost all of his time and efforts on New Hampshire. He spent little time in Iowa before the Feb. 1 caucuses and finished eighth there.

He was able to connect with voters in New Hampshire, despite an anti-establishment mood among many primary-goers by touting his experience as a two-term governor and 18-year member of Congress, a record of sound fiscal management in Washington and Ohio, and a willingness to help the less fortunate.

There hasn't been much recent polling in South Carolina, but he stands at 2 percent in the RealClearPolitics average of surveys. As for finances, his campaign had just $2.5 million on hand as of  Dec. 31, according to Federal Election Commission reports. A person close to Kasich's campaign, who wasn't authorized to speak on the record for the campaign, said calls have been coming in from donors since his New Hampshire finish. Raising money will become more of a focus, this person said, because of Kasich's growing campaign expenses as his leanly run operation expands to other states.

Kasich's record, which including expanding Medicaid under President Barack Obama's health-care overhaul, appealed to moderates, independents and even Democrats in New Hampshire. It won him endorsements from newspapers including the New York Times, but it also drew opposition from conservatives and raised questions about how it will be received in the South.

“He’s become Democrats’ idea of a reasonable Republican and that’s just slow death,” said Dante Scala, an associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire.

Asked on Tuesday how many workers the campaign had on the ground in South Carolina, John Weaver, Kasich’s chief strategist, replied, “We have about 12 and tomorrow we'll have about 25.”

New Day for America, the super political action committee backing Kasich, said it has the strongest grassroots operation in South Carolina of any such group, with eight full-time staff and representation in every congressional district since September. New Day said it recently placed a $500,000 ad buy in both South Carolina and Nevada.

“Despite what we've heard from political pundits and other candidates in this race, John Kasich's support in South Carolina is strong and growing,” Chris Slick, South Carolina director for the super-PAC, said in a statement. 

“This is going to be a national campaign,” Weaver said. “South Carolina is important, and we're looking forward to running against Bush all over the country.”

When one woman in the audience told Kasich she was concerned about reports that he has a “prickly personality” and questioned whether he really could get things done, Kasich responded jokingly. “No, I probably can't. OK, next question.”

(Corrects quote attribution in penultimate paragraph.)
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