By Jack Torry
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio took the unusual step of urging his supporters in Ohio to vote for Gov. John Kasich in Tuesday's Ohio Republican presidential primary in an effort to keep Donald Trump from winning the party's presidential nomination.
Although the Rubio and Kasich campaigns insisted they had not engaged in a coordinated effort to prevent Trump from winning both Florida and Ohio Tuesday, Rubio's comments are consistent with a strategy developed by some Republicans who fear the party will suffer a devastating defeat in November if Trump is their presidential nominee.
Republicans such as Mitt Romney, the party's 2012 presidential nomination, want Rubio to carry his home state of Florida and Kasich to win Ohio. Because the two states have a combined total of 165 delegates to the national convention this summer in Cleveland, victories by Rubio and Kasich in their home states would deliver a stinging blow to Trump's hopes of a first-ballot nomination.
At a news conference in Florida, Rubio said that while he has "never talked to John Kasich about this," he acknowledged Kasich "has a better chance of winning Ohio than I do. And if a voter concludes that voting for John Kasich gives us the best chance to stop Donald Trump there, I anticipate that's what they'll do."
"I can tell you that in Florida, I'm the only one who can beat Donald Trump," Rubio said, adding that Florida Republicans voting for either Kasich or Texas Sen. Cruz are "in essence voting for Donald Trump."
Speaking at a town hall in Moraine near Dayton Friday night, Kasich indicated that he would not return the favor to Rubio.
"If I've got supporters somewhere in the country and I'm on the ballot, I think they kinda oughta go for me," Kasich said. "What kind of deal would it be if I told my people 'don't vote for me'?"
While Kasich and a super-PAC supporting him are airing hundreds of thousands of dollars of TV advertising in Ohio, they have yet to book commercials in Florida. And Rubio and the super-PAC backing him are not scheduled to run any TV commercials in Ohio.
Polls show Kasich in a close fight in Ohio with Trump, while the New York billionaire appears to be leading Rubio in Florida.
The apparent détente between Rubio and Kasich does not extend to Illinois, which holds its presidential primary Tuesday. The super-PACs supporting Rubio and Kasich have been aiming one televised salvo after another against each other in that state.
Jessica Wehrman of the Dispatch Washington Bureau and Dispatch staff writer Randy Ludlow contributed to this story.
(c)2016 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)