STREETSBORO, Ohio — Trailing badly in the GOP nomination race, Gov. John Kasich is looking past his deficit on the scoreboard and instead envisioning sinking the game-winner in overtime at the Republican National Convention this summer.
Mr. Kasich collected his first win of the primary season Tuesday, besting Donald Trump in Ohio. The governor said it was a vindication of his perseverance through abysmal showings in earlier primaries, and vowed to stay in the race to the convention in Cleveland, where he said he hopes party bosses make him the nominee.
But analysts said Mr. Kasich’s win doesn’t change the race, which is essentially a two-man affair between Mr. Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz.
“Kasich is not a potential nominee, he’s a fly in the ointment,” said Eric Fehrnstrom, a GOP strategist who served as a top adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign. “Kasich was expected to win Ohio. The way his campaign is celebrating, you would have thought Kasich just knocked out Ivan Drago in ‘Rocky IV.’ “
“His people think they can now change the narrative of the race, but they said the same thing after Kasich came in second in New Hampshire,” Mr. Fehrnstrom said. “The person who has the best shot of beating Trump is Cruz, and Kasich’s continued presence in the race makes Cruz’s path forward more complicated.”
Even with his Ohio win, Mr. Kasich trails badly in the quest for delegates to the convention, and analysts say he cannot win on his own.
His hopes, therefore, hinge on playing spoiler, hoping to prevent either of his rivals from getting a majority of delegates. At that point the convention deal-making would begin, and Mr. Kasich says he hopes to emerge from that process the winner.
During an appearance on NBC, Mr. Kasich said Wednesday that Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz would lose in the general election, and he hopes party leaders take that into account at a convention.
“Nobody is going to have enough delegates,” he said. “Then, when we get there, the delegates are going to have to figure out, No. 1, who can run the country, who has the record, and, three, who can win.”
Delegates for the national convention are chosen at state and congressional district conventions. They are bound to vote for a candidate based on the result of the primary or caucus in their state, but most are open to switch their allegiances if no one wins on the first ballot.
Ron Kaufman, a member of the Republican National Committee from Massachusetts who supported former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s candidacy, said Mr. Kasich is playing within the rules.
“The rules are pretty clear — you win when you get 1,237 delegates,” Mr. Kaufman said. “If no one gets them, you have a second ballot, and if that happens, that is not unfair, that is the rules. The rules don’t say that if you have 1,100 delegates you get it anyway because you are close. This isn’t horseshoes. That is fair. He has the right to do that.”
For Mr. Kasich to be successful at a convention, Henry Barbour, a Republican National Committee member from Mississippi, said he would have to win over supporters of Sen. Marco Rubio, who ended his bid Tuesday after finishing a distant second in Florida, and “do a fabulous job working with state parties and governors to line up delegates.”
“Anyone who thinks they know what would happen if no one has a majority of the delegates is dreaming,” Mr. Barbour said. “Just no telling who will actually be delegates in many states and how they would respond to a second ballot.”
At that point anyone could emerge, including someone who didn’t even run. Former House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, called on the GOP to nominate his successor, Rep. Paul D. Ryan, if no one can win the nomination outright. Others have suggested Mr. Romney could emerge as a consensus pick.
Whatever happens, Mr. Kaufman said that there is a good chance that Mr. Trump will have collected a record-breaking number of votes by the time the convention rolls around, making it imperative that the hordes of supporters he has brought into the fold do not feel as though they were kicked to the curb, whether Mr. Trump wins or loses.
He also suggested that Mr. Trump may not end up being as bad as people think.
“I am no Trump supporter, lord knows, but the last time we had a candidate that the establishment feared that if this person was going to be the nominee that the world would fall apart and the party would fall apart was Reagan,” Mr. Kaufman said. “Go back to ‘78 or ‘79, people said, ‘Oh my god, if the ‘Bedtime for Bonzo’ guy is going to become the U.S. president, it is going to be over.’”