- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 10, 2016

CLEVELAND — Gov. John Kasich says his presidential aspirations hinge on delivering a win in his home state of Ohio, but five days out from the Republican primary contest, it appears he is going to have to do it without the help of his own state’s grass-roots Republican activists, who say he turned his back on them years ago.

Throughout the Republican presidential race, Mr. Kasich has pushed back against those who have tried to pigeonhole him as a member of the GOP establishment, arguing that he doesn’t fit the mold and that his record shows he is a conservative with a history of bucking his party.

But critical tea partyers and conservative activists say Mr. Kasich himself has become the establishment in Ohio. They point out that the Republican Party in the state is filled with Kasich loyalists who have gone against long-standing tradition by endorsing his presidential bid and are acting as arms of his campaign at the expense of other candidates.

Kasich can’t count on people like me. Well, yes he can, he can count on people like me working against him,” John McAvoy, founder of the Toledo Tea Party, told The Washington Times. “I think he would do very well on the Democratic ticket. That is where he really belongs. He is really a big-government guy. What he does and what he says are two totally different things.”

Mr. McAvoy said, “In two words — he sucks.”

Activists are angry about Mr. Kasich’s willingness to violate conservative orthodoxy, and even brag about it, citing the levels of state spending on his watch and his support of Common Core education standards loathed by many social conservatives.

They say he has shied away from efforts to take on labor unions and make Ohio a right-to-work state, and opted not to become more engaged in efforts to defend traditional marriage and religious liberty.

Activists really started souring on Mr. Kasich in 2013 after he circumvented the Republican-controlled legislature to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, a stance the governor defended with a religious argument about helping the less fortunate.

“He went completely around the legislature, which is supposed to be the will of the people,” said Chris Littleton, former head of the Cincinnati Tea Party, who helped lead the effort that persuaded lawmakers to strip Medicaid expansion from Mr. Kasich’s budget proposals. “The average grass-roots activist in Ohio is not going to support Kasich. I don’t think that is a stretch to say.”

Mr. Littleton, who is no longer involved in politics, delivered a stern takedown of Mr. Kasich’s tenure this week in an online post. He urged Republican primary voters not to support Mr. Kasich in the make-or-break primary for the governor Tuesday.

“When looking at John Kasich, there are two distinct stories that can be told — one is that of an Obama-like policy agenda, and the other is the story of a man who has run Columbus with intimidation and threats rather than consensus and coalition-building,” he wrote.

Seeking a niche

Mr. Kasich, who spent 18 years in the U.S. House, including a half-dozen as chairman of the House Budget Committee, has struggled to find a niche in a race dominated by Mr. Trump, who has promised to blow up the status quo in Washington, and Mr. Cruz, who has touted the way he has gone toe to toe with members of both parties in defense of strict conservative principles.

Mr. Trump leads in the delegate count, followed by Mr. Cruz, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and then Mr. Kasich.

The 63-year-old governor received some good news this week after an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed him running a close third behind Mr. Cruz and Mr. Trump and a Fox News poll of likely Republican primary voters in Ohio that had him leading Mr. Trump by a 34 percent to 29 percent margin. Mr. Cruz came in at 19 percent and Mr. Rubio at 7 percent.

“We’re going to win Ohio. That’s not even a question for me,” Mr. Kasich said this week.

That sort of positive news in the presidential race has eluded Mr. Kasich, who has struggled to gain traction and attention in the raucous Republican primary battles.

Mr. Kasich ceded Iowa to his rivals to focus on the more moderate-minded electorate in New Hampshire, where he placed second behind Mr. Trump. From there, he shifted most of his attention to Michigan, where he hoped his Midwestern Rust Belt roots would play well, but he finished a disappointing third place behind Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz.

Mr. Kasich has acknowledged that his window for winning the nomination before the Republican National Convention has all but closed and that his best bet is to win the party’s nod at a contested convention if no one else captures the 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination outright.

Mr. Kasich has come under pressure to pull the plug on his campaign, though some also want him to continue because he represents the party’s best chance of blocking Mr. Trump from winning Ohio and its 66 delegates.

Others say Mr. Kasich is helping Mr. Trump by staying in the race because most of his backers otherwise would migrate to Mr. Cruz, who has emerged as a clear favorite of grass-roots activists, as evidenced by his seven wins in the race.

“If Kasich wins Ohio, he stays in the race and that is going to ensure that Trump is the nominee,” said Phil Burress, head of the Ohio-based Citizens for Community Values, a Christian group. “There is no way Kasich gets there.”

Mr. Burress is supporting Mr. Cruz and said the Texas Republican can beat Mr. Trump if Mr. Kasich and Mr. Rubio put aside their egos and drop out of the race.

“Maybe Trump has a bigger ego than Kasich, but maybe not,” Mr. Burress said. “His whole campaign is about ego. ‘Look at me, this is who I am, this is what I have done, now bow down to me.’ His ego is out of control. That is why he is in this race. It is the same with Rubio.

“Neither one wants Trump to win, but they are the reason Trump is winning,” he said.

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