Is John Kasich the Jon Huntsman of 2016 in New Hampshire?
If you were to take an average Republican not in New Hampshire and ask them who came in 3rd in the 2012 primary with almost 42K votes, most would think it was Ron Paul (who came in 2nd), Rick Santorum, or Newt Gingrich. Those were the three who were standing the longest against Mitt Romney before he officially earned the nomination. It may surprise Republicans outside of New Hampshire to know that Jon Huntsman came in a relatively close 3rd with 17% of the vote compared to Paul who had 23%.
The former Utah Governor put all of his eggs in the New Hampshire basket and was rewarded with a respectable 3rd-place finish. It wasn’t enough to continue his campaign, though, and he ended his campaign six days later, endorsing eventual nominee Romney.
This narrative seems to be shaping up again in New Hamsphire as another moderate Republican governor is making an unlikely push in the state. Ohio Governor John Kasich, who is way behind on the national polls, seems poised to finish in the top three or four. Part of this is due to his all-in attitude in New Hampshire. He’s put the bulk of his campaign focus on winning the state and using the momentum to prolong his candidacy until the winner-take-all March 15 Ohio primary.
The other thing in his favor is Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s debacle of a performance at the New Hampshire GOP debate during which he repeated the same memorized talking point four times. He was called out for it by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and both traditional media and social media took notice.
Here’s the problem. Kasich really doesn’t have a chance. As much as his supporters seem to like him, he’s not a candidate that can carry the moderate mantle to victory. None of them can. Regardless of what pundits and spindoctors are saying, this has come down to a three-man race between Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Rubio. With Rubio likely to hit the “SEC Primaries” without a single win now that he muffed this important debate, it’s very likely down to a two-man race.
Kasich is another Hunstman. He’s there to block the frontrunners from getting enough early delegates to put the race away. With the way the race is shaping, it’s likely that a vote for Kasich is actually a vote for Trump. Those who are supporting Kasich or considering Rubio who do not want to see a Trump nomination should be backing Cruz instead.
As Huntsman had a respectable showing in 2012 before dropping out and wasting many New Hampshire votes, so too will Kasich likely finish third or fourth before dropping out. Looking at the math, a vote for Kasich or Rubio in New Hampshire will benefit Trump the most.