Thursday night’s debate in Detroit became Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s moment.
In Frank Luntz’s focus group, 18 of 24 picked Mr. Kasich as the winner.
Even the news media, which has ignored Mr. Kasich’s calm, positive, policy-focused campaign while lavishing attention on childish attacks, conceded that Mr. Kasich had a good night.
Mr. Kasich’s long, persistent, and at times quiet campaign has begun to pay off.
Early in the campaign, the governor did not seem to be building any momentum, clogged somewhere in the muddle of 17 candidates.
Donald Trump’s sheer energy and noise dominated.
Media coverage became a function of fighting the Donald. Mr. Kasich refused to be petty and negative. The news media refused to cover substance or positive ideas.
But Mr. Kasich calmly continued to hold town hall meetings where he listened to people, answered their questions and learned from them.
Then other candidates began dropping out.
Jeb Bush spent more than $100 million, to almost no effect, and disappeared.
Chris Christie brilliantly challenged Marco Rubio in a debate, but his campaign failed to catch on.
Mr. Kasich skipped Iowa and focused on New Hampshire. He held more than 100 town hall meetings in the state, and came in second to Mr. Trump (better than almost anyone in the news media expected).
On Super Tuesday, Mr. Kasich split Vermont’s delegates in a tie with Donald Trump. He then finished second in Massachusetts.
Callista and I went to see a John Kasich town hall meeting near our office in Virginia on Super Tuesday.
There was a nice but not overwhelming crowd. John’s wife, Karen, introduced him. I was at their wedding 19 years ago and she is lovelier than ever. Their twin daughters, Emma and Reese, were there, too.
John was his old self. Engaging, funny, eager to listen, very willing to have people disagree with him or bring him new ideas and new information.
Callista noted how deeply emotional John was in listening to people who had experienced pain in their lives. The small-town boy from Western Pennsylvania whose father was a mailman comes through in these conversations with citizens from all walks of life.
In terms of experience, Mr. Kasich is by far the best prepared of the final four candidates for the Republican nomination.
He was elected to the Ohio State Senate in Ohio in 1978 as its youngest member ever. As a freshman, he wrote his own budget. Then he became the only Republican to defeat a Democratic incumbent for Congress in 1982.
In his 18 years in Congress, John became a genuine expert on national security. He served on the House Armed Services Committee for all 18 years.
When I became House Speaker in 1994, Mr. Kasich became chairman of the Budget Committee. Thanks to his intelligence, energy, drive and persistence, we balanced the federal budget for four straight years — the only time that has happened in our lifetimes.
Mr. Kasich then spent a decade in business and learned the principles of free enterprise firsthand.
He was drawn back to Ohio by a state government that was out of control. It was running up huge deficits, killing jobs and raising taxes. John decided to run for governor, and defeated the Democrat incumbent governor in a remarkable upset.
In four years, he balanced the budget, cut taxes, led to job growth, developed a surplus and launched a wave of reforms that helped the poor, the mentally ill, and Ohioans with disabilities.
In 2010, running for re-election, Mr. Kasich carried 86 of 88 counties — an unheard of majority in what is always a swing state in presidential elections.
Thursday night, for the first time, Americans began to hear John Kasich’s ideas.
He won the debate and took a solid step toward winning Ohio in two weeks.
He has earned it.