The Granite State isn’t much of a delegate prize. It has about one-third as many GOP convention delegates as Ohio.
But a breakout performance there has traditionally caused other primary states to sit up and take notice. More often than not, the candidate who wins the first primary in the nation has captured the Republican nomination.
“It’s not an ideal strategy, but it’s the only one open to Kasich,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
“You do what you have to do. He doesn’t have a chance in Iowa. He’s not the kind of candidate South Carolina or Nevada go for. … Anyone who doesn’t do well in one of the four initial contests will not be in the race. It’s a winnowing process, and he picked correctly. New Hampshire is the state where he will do best.”
Ohio’s second-term governor has not written off the Iowa caucus on Feb. 1. He has made a few appearances there, including on Saturday, but his eye is clearly on the prize of New Hampshire. It will hold the nation’s first primary on Feb. 9.
Mr. Kasich’s more moderate stances on some positions compared to others in the GOP field — such as partnering with Obamacare to expandMedicaid in Ohio and defending Common Core against charges it represents a federal takeover of schools — are less likely to be embraced by Iowaconservatives.
Iowa narrowly backed Rick Santorum over Mitt Romney in 2012 and Mike Huckabee over John McCain in 2008 only to see the more moderate candidates go on to capture New Hampshire and the Republican nomination.
“It’s about momentum. You’ve got to win an early state, and that really means New Hampshire,” said Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center and former director of the Ohio Poll at the University of Cincinnati.
He co-wrote the new book The First Primary: New Hampshire’s Outsize Role in Presidential Nominations with David W. Moore.
“There are not independent campaigns going on in other states right now,” Mr. Smith said. “It’s all Iowa and New Hampshire and a little South Carolina. … Iowa’s numbers are negated by what happens in New Hampshire. There has never been a time when a nonincumbent has won bothIowa and New Hampshire.”
Since 1948, the candidate who has won New Hampshire has gone on to win the Republican nomination 13 of 17 times. Nine won the presidency, including Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, both of whom initially lost Iowa, but won New Hampshire.
Mr. Smith said exit polls in 2012 showed 22 percent of voters in New Hampshire identified as evangelical or born-again Christians. That number was 57 percent in Iowa.
So, while still hovering around 2 percent in national polls and working to establish a national campaign infrastructure, Mr. Kasich has focused onNew Hampshire.
“It’s a pretty broad electorate, the first one with a lot of voters participating,” Kasich campaign spokesman Chris Schrimpf said. “It’s not a huge state, so you get the opportunity to meet all the candidates, let them look you in the eye multiple times to get a sense of who the person is and what he can do for the country.
” New Hampshire takes that very seriously,” he said. “He’s doing well there, putting in the time, holding town halls, meeting with voters who like common-sense conservatives who get things done. That’s right where Governor Kasich is.”
Two super PACS supporting his candidacy have spent $5.7 million to air TV ads only in the New Hampshire- Boston media market over roughly two and a half months.
“He announced two months ago now,” Mr. Schrimpf said. “I don’t think he was in the top 10 in New Hampshire before that. To go from outside the top 10 to third [in polls] shows his message is working.”
So far, billionaire Donald Trump leads polls in New Hampshire and Iowa. In the Granite State, Mr. Kasich’s chief competition has been neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.
Mr. Sabato said there are two problems with a New Hampshire-centric strategy.
“Your opponents know that to get rid of you, all they have to do is make sure you do badly in one state,” he said. “And, if you do well there, where do you go next? How do you follow that up? It’s a tough road. Not only can’t you afford to make mistakes, you have to count on your opponents making mistakes.”
The bulk of the attention is on New Hampshire, but Mr. Schrimpf said the governor has paid staff in Iowa, South Carolina, Michigan, and Illinois with volunteers in Alabama and Mississippi.
“Kasich is in a good position to [do well in New Hampshire],” Mr. Smith said. “The key is when to peak. You don’t want to peak too early, because voters aren’t paying attention. Then they’ll turn to the new kid in town.”
So far, all of the governor’s TV presence is due to spending from super PACs with which the official Kasich campaign is barred from coordinating efforts.
“The thing that killed [ Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker] is you’ve got to have regular money for the regular campaign,” he said. “That’s what Kasich has to be careful of.”
Mr. Schrimpf declined to discuss specifics on Kasich fund-raising. The next report to the Federal Elections Commission is due Oct. 15.
“He will never raise as much money as Bush,” he said. “The beauty of New Hampshire is you don’t have to. … It really is about one-on-one interaction with candidates. … That’s why organizations are being put in place in other states to build off momentum.
“You don’t have to win New Hampshire,” he said. “You need to do well in New Hampshire to show the nation that you have a serious chance at theWhite House.”
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.
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