By Darrel Rowland

The day began and ended in a fight over Donald Trump's incursion into the home turf of 2016 presidential rival John Kasich.

In between, Trump tweeted that the Ohio governor is a "dummy" and "one of the worst presidential candidates in history." And in a speech before 14,000 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, Trump pointed to polls showing the billionaire re-establishing his lead both nationally and in early voting states -- with Kasich far behind.

"Your governor is only 2 (percent), what happened?" Trump said to loud cheers. "I heard he was dropping out."

After Trump's hourlong speech on Monday night, Ohio Republican Chairman Matt Borges chastised him for ignoring his backstage admonition not to criticize a governor with a 60 percent-plus approval rating in a state that the GOP must win to regain the White House.

"We got to stay away from that stuff or it's going to cost us the election," said Borges, who remains officially neutral and pledged to support whoever wins the GOP nomination.

Borges said Trump promised to "not go as hard on him" as his recent criticism of Kasich -- such as several personal shots via Twitter on Friday -- and the reality-TV star did not mention Kasich again after his initial references.

The Kasich campaign celebrated what they viewed as standing up to a bully. "This is how you deal with Donald Trump and people like him. Don't back down. Ever. Tonight he backed down. Tomorrow we still won't," tweeted chief strategist John Weaver.

Scot Milburn, Kasich's top communications strategist, tweeted, "We gave him a taste and I don't think he liked it. More to come."

Chris Schrimpf, official spokesman for Kasich's campaign, said, "Donald Trump was shown to be a candidate full of hot air and nothing else."

During his speech, Trump doubled-down on earlier comments that he would support waterboarding because "it works."

"You bet your ass I would. In a heartbeat," he said, noting that "on the other side they chop off our young people's heads and put them on a stick."

He added that he would approve of more-drastic measures, too. "If it doesn't work, they deserve it anyway," Trump said.

Trump got perhaps his loudest roar of the night, and he didn't even have to finish his thought on the Paris terrorism victims: "If some of those folks carried guns, these animals, these savages ..."

He also repeated his oft-challenged account of Muslims cheering in New Jersey after the 9/11 attack brought down the World Trade Center towers.

"I saw it on television, I saw it on the Internet," he said. And his campaign office has received "hundreds of phone calls" saying they saw it, too.

Trump didn't get into his hoped-for registry or watch list for Muslims, but he did say surveillance should be conducted at some mosques.

During his speech, he called the hall "packed" and said "thousands" remained outside and couldn't get in; however, there was space for at least hundreds more along the edge of the hall. Still, Trump's crowd certainly was one of the biggest, if not the largest, political gathering since Barack Obama drew about the same number when he kicked off his 2012 re-election campaign at Value City Arena on the Ohio State campus.

Trump was his usual immodest self throughout his speech, saying, "I'm beating Hillary (Clinton) by a lot ... I'm going to be great ... You're going to be so proud, and you're going to be so happy ... We're gonna win, we're gonna win ... We're going to take back our jobs from China and Mexico ... I'm much smarter than all of them (TV commentators) ... Everything I said (about Iraq) came true ... We're going to make America great again, and you're going to be so proud."

The political ruckus surrounding the Trump appearance was more like a campaign event a month before the general election, not one more than 11 months out -- and more than two months before the first American casts a ballot in the 2016 race.

But the attacks and counterattacks underscored how the 2016 GOP race is in a state of flux 10 days after the Paris terrorist attack -- accelerated even more by the stated intent of several Republican operatives and the super-PAC supporting Kasich to take Trump out.

Before Trump arrived on Monday, the Kasich campaign organized a conference call that included U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi of Genoa Township and Senate President Keith Faber of Celina; staged a press conference with a pair of veterans and U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers, who served in Iraq; and added a second Web ad slamming Trump. So did the Kasich super-PAC, which also paid for a plane to fly overhead toting a banner saying "Ohioans can't trust Trump" and passed out a two-sided sheet listing several of Trump's contradictory and factually challenged statements.

Kasich was fund-raising in Michigan on Monday.

Also Monday, NBC confirmed reports that the network will grant equal time to Kasich and the other GOP candidates who requested it stemming from Trump's recent appearance on Saturday Night Live. There was no immediate indication how Kasich would use the time.

(c)2015 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)