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‘The country’s watching Ohio’: Primary stakes high for Kasich, Sanders
By Darrel RowlandThe Columbus Dispatch • Tuesday March 15, 2016 11:16 AM
NORTH CANTON — Long a presidential battlefield, Ohio may change the course of both the Democratic and Republican White House campaigns in today’s primary.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich is bidding to secure his first win of the 2016 campaign, which the governor says would transform the GOP race. If front-runner Donald Trump takes Ohio — along with his expected victory in Florida — it will end Kasich’s presidential dream and may well cinch the Republican nomination for Trump.
On the Democratic side, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is trying to pull off an Ohio upset like he did last week in Michigan, which would further delay what some still see as the inevitable nomination of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Combined, those four candidates made 18 appearances across Ohio in just the three days leading up to today’s vote.
Kasich cast his ballot this morning at a Genoa Township precinct near his home outside Westerville.
He was asked what he had to say to Trump. “You’re not going to ruin my day after I voted myself for president. I have nothing to say to him,” Kasich replied.
“I just want to be a good guy, helping my country. All I really want to do,” he added at a press conference televised live on CNN.
Trump was watching and lurking on Twitter, posting: "Watching John Kasich being interviewed -- acting so innocent and like such a nice guy. Remember him in second debate, until I put him down."
Kasich will await election results tonight at Baldwin Wallace College in Berea.
“The country’s watching Ohio. We’re the geographical center in every political election,” Kasich proclaimed in an election-eve speech at Westerville Central High School, a short distance from his home.
Kasich not only made the most Ohio stops in recent days, but he pulled out all the stops, ranging from endorsements from every living Ohio State head football coach to support from the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney.
“I came here to make it real clear that all of America is watching what Ohio does,” Romney said at Westerville Central.
“We’ve got to turn out tomorrow and make sure we send a signal loud and clear that a man of integrity, a man with a clear track record, a man that has shown what he can do to turn a state around can do the same thing for the country.”
When the former Massachusetts governor came out strongly against Trump a couple of weeks ago, he urged voters in Ohio and Florida to get behind their home-state candidates, Kasich and Sen. Marco Rubio, who has since faded badly in the polls.
While Romney’s support for Kasich was not billed as an endorsement, he has appeared with no other candidate. And at one point Romney seemed to favorably compare Kasich with the entire rest of the GOP field.
“Unlike the other people running, he has a real track record. He has the kind of record you want in Washington, and that’s why I’m convinced you’re going to do the right thing tomorrow,” he told several hundred people in a cavernous air museum in North Canton.
Kasich said he will win Ohio — and its 66 winner-take-all delegates — and also garner delegates in Illinois and possibly Missouri and North Carolina, which also vote today.
During a Dispatch interview on his campaign bus rolling down the interstate west of Youngstown, Kasich said the shape of the race already is changing.
“I think if you take the last week, there’s been more attention focused on what I’m trying to do and say than there was in the last year,” he said.
“I think that we can get a lot of delegates going forward. I hope so. So we can go into (the Republican convention in) Cleveland strong and then delegates are going to decide who can run the country. It’s not going to be about insults or wrestling in the mud or one-liners or anything else. It’s not the way conventions work.”
In response to a question, Kasich said he has only now begun challenging Trump’s tactics in campaign rallies that have sometimes turned violent because he wasn’t fully aware of them before.
Staffers told him to turn the TV on Friday night to see the clashes between protesters and supporters outside a canceled Trump rally in Chicago. The staff members later prepared a compilation of incendiary quotes from Trump.
“I’m just calling them as I see ‘em. What I’ve seen, what I’ve been observing, is terrible,” Kasich said.
When asked whether protesters bore any of the responsibility, he answered, “I’ve said that I think that some of the protesters probably went there to disrupt things.”
Kasich said tone is critically important in handling potentially volatile situations, such as reacting to legal decisions exonerating police officers in Cleveland for shooting deaths involving African-Americans, including a 12-year-old.
“If you had somebody out there yelling and screaming and dividing, it would create problems, I have no doubt about it. I have to be very careful about the things I say in the middle of these really hard situations.”
Kasich becomes impatient when repeatedly asked questions about Trump.
“I don’t like what I’ve seen out of that guy, but he’s not going to be the nominee anyway, so let’s move on. It’ll just be a little asterisk. It’ll go down like the — what’s-his-name — the Howard Dean scream.”
The 2016 political circus may not be over yet, Kasich said, “but people are starting to leave the tent.”