Ohio Gov. John Kasich seems like a natural candidate for a presidential run. A wildly popular sitting governor of a key swing state, he has one foot firmly planted in the pro-business establishment Republican world, and another in the part of the Party where a willingness to talk openly about strong Christian beliefs is a major selling point for a candidate.
Kasich, however, while showing all the signs of preparing to run, has declined to declare himself an official candidate – a delay that might hamstring his campaign before it even gets going.
In a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll released yesterday, Kasich was firmly in also-ran status, failing to break 4 percent support. At this point, the Ohio governor stands a strong chance of being denied a spot on stage in the first GOP primary debate, which will be held in his home state later this summer.
Earlier this month, veteran elections analyst Charlie Cook observed that Kasich has allowed former Florida governor Jeb Bush, current Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to gain an early advantage.
“With his late and slow entry, Kasich has ceded ground to the top three that could have been his,” Cook wrote.
Of course, Kasich is not the only GOP candidate not to declare yet. Two of the most obvious are his fellow governors Walker and Chris Christie of New Jersey. The major difference there, though, is that both Walker and Christie are widely known outside their home states, and have significant support networks.
Kasich has neither of those advantages, and time is getting short. In fact, some observers wonder if time has already run out. The concern is how Kasich is doing in what election analysts refer to as the “invisible primary” -- the period well in advance of any votes being cast when potential candidates secure commitments from key party operatives and major donors. They lay the groundwork for a campaign that might not start seriously reaching out to voters until well into the future.
“In a certain sense the damage is already done,” said Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia’s Center on Politics. “This campaign got going very early. Jeb Bush for all intents and purposes announced in December. The invisible primary process has been going on for months now.”
Kasich’s candidacy has more than one potential problem.
Kasich, he said, only started gearing up for a race in the Spring, at a time when some of his opponents had spent half a year or more laying the groundwork for a presidential run, securing commitments from key staffers and courting major donors.
The issue of campaign staffing, Kondik said, is “a reality he has to deal with.” More problematic, though, might be the failure to connect with the GOP’s stable of major campaign donors. And according to Kondik, that might have been Kasich’s biggest challenge all along.
“There doesn’t seem to be a ton of enthusiasm for Kasich among the donor class,” Kondik said. “I don’t know if he had gotten in the race in February if it would have made any difference.”
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