- Associated Press - Saturday, March 12, 2016

CINCINNATI (AP) - Gov. John Kasich claims “home-court advantage” for his state’s presidential primary, although it won’t be a slam dunk for him among conservative activists in a southwest Ohio Republican stronghold area.

Kasich is focusing his campaign on winning Tuesday’s primary, which would at least keep alive hopes of heading off businessman Donald Trump’s nomination and for an open convention back in Ohio in July. The second-term governor enjoys high approval ratings in Ohio, and could also benefit from anti-Trump Republicans rallying behind him in the winner-take-all primary.

But some worry that a stop-Trump strategy will cause the party to alienate the many people enthused by his insurgent campaign. Ray Warrick, chairman of the Warren County Republican Party, calls GOP establishment figures trying to block Trump “tone-deaf,” even though he supports Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

“I’m more concerned about this whole notion that we’re going to have this brokered convention,” Warrick said. “I don’t see a lot of good coming out of that.”

The small cities and sprawling suburban townships just west, north and east of Cincinnati, forming a crescent around the city, comprise a solid base for Republicans in a swing state that history says the party must carry to win the White House. The Associated Press has been tracking decision-making over the past eight months by some party activists in the region.



A sampling from interviews in the last days before the Ohio primary:

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LIKE RUBIO, VOTING KASICH

Kennedy Copeland, president of the College Republicans at Xavier University, is a fan of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio but is voting Kasich in Ohio.

“I did vote for Kasich because he has the best chance of winning Ohio against Trump,” said Copeland, 21, who cast her ballot in early voting. “Marco Rubio is definitely my first choice.”

Harry Prestanski, 68, of West Chester Township, also will support Kasich, even though he had liked Rubio as a choice until the senator’s recent personal sniping at Trump. Prestanski appreciates Kasich’s support on veterans issues that the Marine veteran advocates, and how Kasich has talked issues, not personalities.

“Right now, he’s the only adult in the room,” Prestanski said. “He doesn’t take it down into the gutter like some of the other people have.”

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COUNTERING WITH CRUZ

Recent polls indicate Cruz is well behind Trump and Kasich in the state, but he has a loyal following in a region where tea partiers have long been rallying. The latest Quinnipiac University poll in Ohio found Cruz was the top choice for those surveyed who identify themselves as tea party members, while Kasich was leading among Christian evangelicals, another significant vote in southwest Ohio.

Long-time anti-abortion leader Lori Viars of Warren County backs Cruz, and she and tea party supporter Sue Hardenbergh of the eastern Cincinnati suburb of Anderson Township are among some three dozen conservatives who publicly endorsed Cruz just after the Ohio Republican Party officially backed Kasich in January.

“I feel like people are making a decision for Trump out of anger,” Viars said. “I would just ask my conservative friends who like Trump to look at the records.”

Hardenbergh has been supporting Cruz since late last year for his conservative principles, and she’s not going to alter her voting plans to try to block Trump. She wouldn’t vote for Kasich, she said, because of his support for Common Core education standards and expanding Medicaid under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

“My vote is sacred, and my vote is for Ted Cruz,” she said. “It’s certainly not for John Kasich.”

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IF RESISTANCE BECOMES FUTILE

Warrick, Prestanski, Hardenbergh and Viars said they would support Trump if he wins the nomination.

To Viars, the most important issue for the next president is appointment of Supreme Court justices. She doesn’t know what to expect from Trump on nominations, but she’s sure she doesn’t want Democrats Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders making them.

“I would have to (support Trump). I would hold my nose and do it,” Viars said. “He might surprise you and do something conservative.”

Copeland couldn’t.

“I would gladly work for anyone else except Trump,” she said. “I don’t think I could stand in a room and talk to anyone and say that what he does is OK.”

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To see some of his other recent stories: https://bigstory.ap.org/content/dan-sewell

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