John Kasich won’t come close to securing enough delegates for the Republican nomination before this summer’s convention. He won’t control the powerful rules committee, either — a critical tool in securing favorable terrain in Cleveland.
No matter, say his advisers, who argue that the Ohio governor can capture the nomination by persuading delegates to switch allegiance from Donald Trump or Ted Cruz should a winner not emerge on the first or second ballot.
“The biggest thing of all is what I call the delegate chase — it’s romancing the people after they’ve been elected,” said Charlie Black, a veteran Republican operative helping Kasich’s campaign. He and others argue that electability and a record of governing will be important to the longtime party members and insiders who make up a solid portion of the convention delegates and don’t want to see Republican candidates nationwide crushed in November.
Others say such hopes are a pipe dream. Kasich has fewer than 150 delegates — it takes 1,237 to get the nomination — and has won only his home state of Ohio.
“If John Kasich’s strategy is to hope and pray that longtime party establishment insiders are going to bail him out, I think he’s delusional,” said Ryan Williams, a GOP consultant who worked for Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush but is now unaffiliated with a presidential campaign.
Kasich’s campaign knows it’s been out-organized by Cruz, partly because the governor lacked the money to build a large-scale delegate operation until after Ohio. And better organization means a stronger chance of controlling the committee that will determine the guidelines of the July convention.
Cruz says he has no intention of advocating for changes to a 2012 rule that says a candidate must win at least eight states to be placed in nomination — a rule that looms as a reality check for Kasich’s long-shot bid. Kasich’s advisers play down that obstacle.
“The idea that this is going to turn on the eight-state rule is putting the emphasis on the wrong syllable,” said Tom Rath, a New Hampshire-based adviser. “We don’t think it cripples our effort.”
But if that requirement is passed again at the 2016 convention, it would prevent Kasich from delivering a speech before the first round of voting. It would not stop delegates from voting for him if they are freed up as the voting drags on.
Ben Ginsberg, a Republican lawyer and expert on the nominating process, said if the convention goes to a second ballot, 1,800 or so delegates could sign another candidate’s nominating petition. He says if Kasich doesn’t get nominated on the first ballot, he and others could on subsequent ballots.
Still, Kasich faces steep challenges. The 112-member rules committee can set any rule it wants when the convention convenes, meaning Trump or Cruz loyalists could approve any number of rules designed to box Kasich out. He’s likely to enter Cleveland with little sway over rule-making. Each state and territory selects two members of the rules committee.
“If you don’t control a majority of delegates, then you do not have control of the process,” Ginsberg said.
Kasich has 32 employees focused on delegate efforts.
Black acknowledges the obvious — Cruz is in a better position.
“We’re pretty good in some states, not so good in others,” he said. “(We’re) not nearly as organized as Cruz, but of course he’s been at it for a year.”
That’s why the campaign is spending its energy building relationships with delegates who are committed to other candidates on the first ballot. Part of that strategy is showing up at state conventions even where Kasich is unlikely to win any delegates, such as in Colorado last weekend. The goal is to keep delegates open to a Kasich nomination from the floor.
“A lot of this political knife-fighting you see on the ground may prove to be unproductive,” Andrew Boucher, a delegate strategist for Kasich, said of the other campaigns. “Our plan is to make as many friends as possible, talk to everyone who is willing to keep their options open.”
For now, that’s more than 1,000 people to convince.