Kasich Comes in Third in Michigan

by | March 9, 2016 AT 12:50 PM

By Darrel Rowland

John Kasich failed to achieve even his lowered goal of finishing second in Michigan, but his team was jazzed by a new national poll showing him ascending into the thick of the competition.

The Donald Trump juggernaut rolled on with easy victories in Michigan and Mississippi. Kasich was garnering a dozen or more delegates in the former, but he did not meet the threshold in the latter to get any -- even though the governor had touted his ground game and the backing of ex-Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who edged Kasich for second in Michigan, was declared the winner in Idaho, where Kasich was fourth. Trump was also the winner in Hawaii.

Speaking before a cheering crowd of several hundred at the Renaissance hotel Downtown, Kasich pledged to continue "a positive campaign that lays out a specific vision for America."

"We're now moving into a position where the people of America are beginning to hear this message."

At the Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Fla., Trump sarcastically thanked "the special interests" for mounting a multimillion-dollar campaign against him: "Advertising is not as important as competence."

With 93 percent of the Michigan vote counted, Trump had 37 percent in Michigan. Kasich was just behind Cruz, both at about 25 percent, while Michigan Sen. Marco Rubio had 9 percent -- too low to receive delegates.

With 94 percent of the vote in Mississippi, it was Trump 48 percent, Cruz 36, Kasich 9 and Rubio 5.

But despite the possibility of an embarrassing third-place finish in Michigan, the Kasich campaign was touting a new poll sponsored by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal showing him pulling ahead of Rubio nationally. Those results: Trump 30 percent, Cruz 27, Kasich 22 and Rubio 20. Kasich's total is a leap of 11 points since the groups' previous survey.

Even more telling: The results from the states yet to vote essentially show the candidates even -- although the poll's margin of sampling error is relatively high. Each of Trump's three rivals would beat him in a one-on-one matchup.

So for Kasich, it's now down to, as the late NBC newsman Tim Russert said, "Ohio, Ohio, Ohio."

Kasich has guaranteed a win Tuesday in his home state -- and a departure from the race if he doesn't.

"We are going to win the state of Ohio, and it will be a whole new ballgame," he said.

Ohio essentially is a two-candidate race, as Rubio and Cruz are concentrating on Florida. If Rubio doesn't win his home state, pressure is likely to increase greatly on him to drop out.

Aside from a pair of visits today to the Chicago area and Thursday night's final GOP debate in Miami, Kasich has a heavy Ohio schedule. As of now, that effort is scheduled to conclude Monday evening at Westerville Central High School, near his home.

Trump is scheduled to appear in Dayton and Cleveland on Saturday.

"I think I'm going to do great in Ohio," Trump said Tuesday night.

The pressure was on Kasich to do well in Michigan because he spent far more time campaigning there -- along with numerous volunteers who drove north in recent days -- than any other Republican candidate.

But Cruz, presumably sensing an opportunity from polls showing him just behind Kasich, made a late-night visit Monday to Grand Rapids in a last-ditch grab for votes.

The Kasich campaign had long touted Michigan as the gateway to the Midwest, where it would mount the type of campaign it ran in New Hampshire and begin the transformation of the race into Kasich-friendly states. But more recently the goalposts were moved to make a second-place finish the objective, supposedly springboarding Kasich to Ohio.

The Buckeye State is part of the GOP's first wave of winner-take-all contests Tuesday, along with primaries in Florida, Illinois, North Carolina and Missouri.

But post-Ohio, Republicans have an odd lull in the primary schedule, raising questions of whether Kasich will have enough money to run an effective campaign.

In a lengthy speech and press conference, Trump made overtures to the party to unite behind him, despite a burgeoning #NeverTrump movement.

Giving off-the-cuff analyses of every state, Trump predicted he would do well in the general election.

"Hillary's going to be easy to beat. She's a very flawed candidate," he said.

(c)2016 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)