Ohio Governor John Kasich suspended his presidential campaign on Tuesday, cementing Donald Trump’s status as the Republican standard-bearer virtually certain to face Democrat Hillary Clinton in November.
Speaking in Columbus, Kasich did not mention Trump or the presidential race. Rather, he thanked his family and supporters, recounted the places he visited and the people he met at his town halls. He talked about the staples of his campaign, including the importance of economic growth, being willing to help others "rise,'' and living a life "bigger than yourself.''
"As I suspend my campaign today, I have renewed faith, deeper faith, that the Lord will show me the way forward and fulfill the purpose of my life,'' Kasich said.
Kasich’s move comes after Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus called for the party to unite behind Trump as the presumptive nominee after the billionaire's decisive victory on Tuesday drove Texas Senator Ted Cruz from the race.
The Ohio governor had vowed to continue until Trump reached the 1,237 delegates needed for the nomination before the party’s convention in July, hoping to keep Trump below that number and win in Cleveland on multiple ballots as the most electable Republican in the general election. But he won only his home state on March 15 and languished in fourth in delegates, even behind former candidate Marco Rubio.
Kasich, 63, never liked being called an establishment candidate, saying he has spent his political career fighting the status quo. Republican voters saw things differently.
The two-term Ohio governor and 18-year congressman tried to sell himself as an experienced manager who could work with Democrats and fix the nation’s most intractable problems. But in an election when voters were drawn to “outsider” candidates such as Trump, convinced that traditional politics no longer work for them, Kasich didn’t connect.
“He ended up running against a different kind of candidate, a candidate that had really quite broad and idiosyncratic appeal to voters,” said John Green, a political science professor at the University of Akron. “It’s hard to fault the Kasich campaign for not anticipating that, because nobody else did, either.”
Kasich entered the race late, waiting until July 21 to declare after it became clear that former Florida Jeb Bush, who he thought would be the Republican front-runner, wasn’t gaining traction.
The Ohio governor, who briefly ran for president in 1999, initially defied skeptics who doubted whether he could garner enough support to qualify for the first Republican debate in Cleveland in August and whether he’d be able to raise the needed funds to be competitive.
After barely registering in national polls for months, Kasich bet his campaign on the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary, eschewing the Iowa caucuses and holding more than 100 town-hall meetings in the Granite State. He was counting on a strong showing there to bring him the national attention and fundraising he needed to propel him to the nomination.
His theory was that his message and background, especially helping to balance the federal budget in the 1990s, could unite voters looking for someone to break the gridlock in Washington and get results. He touted job growth in Ohio after the recession, with a state budget reaching a $2 billion surplus from a deficit of about $8 billion when he took office in 2011, and he said he could replicate his Ohio success in the U.S.
“It’s one thing to know how to fight,” Kasich said at a Bloomberg Politics breakfast on Feb. 3 in Manchester. “It’s another thing to know how to fight and win.”
After initially pursuing a strategy of confronting Trump, Kasich settled on an approach of presenting a positive campaign that eschewed personal attacks to distinguish him as the “adult in the room.”
Kasich’s record, which including expanding Medicaid under President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul to help people with mental illness and others “in shadows,” appealed to moderates and won him endorsements from newspapers including the New York Times. But it drew opposition from conservatives and ultimately never allowed him to break through in an election dominated by Trump.
Even though Kasich outlasted the other seven current or former governors who ran, he failed to be competitive in contests after New Hampshire, besides winning in Ohio.
While Kasich has said he has no interest in being Trump’s running mate, his appeal to moderate Republicans and even Democrats—plus Ohio’s prominence as a battleground state in presidential races—continues to fuel speculation that he could be an option.
Kasich often reminded voters on the campaign trail that no Republican has ever won the presidency without carrying the Buckeye State. He said it to bolster his own case as the best nominee for the party, and it could be a rationale for picking him as running mate.
The Ohio governor, who easily won re-election to a second term in 2014, remains popular in the state. A Quinnipiac University poll released in October showed that Kasich had a job-approval rating of 62 percent, his highest ever in the poll. Even 42 percent of state Democrats said they supported his performance.
It’s unclear whether Kasich will back Trump in November, a wrenching question for many Republicans who oppose both Trump and Clinton. Cruz hasn’t yet offered an endorsement, after issuing a blistering attack on Trump’s character on the final day of his candidacy in response to the front-runner’s broadsides against his family.
“I am confident that I can unite much of it,” Trump said of Republican Party on NBC on Wednesday. “Some of it I don’t want.”
“In Ted’s case it would be nice,” he added.