Politics

For Marco Rubio and John Kasich, home might not be so sweet

Republican presidential candidates Ohio Gov. John Kasich, left, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., face must-win primaries in their home states Tuesday.They are photographed during a debate in North Carolina on Jan. 14, 2016.
Republican presidential candidates Ohio Gov. John Kasich, left, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., face must-win primaries in their home states Tuesday.They are photographed during a debate in North Carolina on Jan. 14, 2016. AP

A presidential hopeful’s home state primary is supposed to be like comfort food, a restorative repast of votes satisfying to both the soul and the delegate count.

But what’s cooking in Florida and possibly Ohio in their primaries Tuesday could taste more bitter than bracing. It might also dramatically change the Republican race.

Sen. Marco Rubio of the Sunshine State has seen little of its warmth in recent weeks. Once touted as the great hope of the Republican Party establishment, he could face a crushing defeat if the Florida polls are accurate. They show billionaire real estate developer Donald Trump easily defeating the first-term senator.

On the eve of the Florida primary - facing long odds with bleak poll numbers - junior Senator Marco Rubio crisscrosses his home state in a final attempt to salvage his presidential hopes. The stakes are higher than ever as many believe Florida wil

In Ohio, Republican Gov. John Kasich is in better straits. The latest surveys show him either tied with or slightly ahead of Trump.

A loss for either slams the door on his White House hopes, to say nothing of the embarrassment, and the bragging rights denied them.

“If you can’t win your home state, it’s rough to rationally explain how you win in other states,” said David Winston, a Republican strategist. “This is literally, the ‘there’s-no-other-option’ moment. You can’t create a situation where you’ve lost your home state and that there’s some path.”

Rubio has captured just one state – Minnesota ‑ plus two non-states: the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. He has 159 convention delegates. Kasich, who has not won anywhere, has 61.

The Ohio chief executive and former congressman is the most non-combative candidate in a GOP campaign that has been described as vulgar, embarrassing and a playground spat. His closest finish was in Vermont, where he placed second, behind Trump.

The business-magnate-cum-reality TV star has 457 delegates. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, the last remaining Republican contender from the original field of 17, has 365.

Besides Florida and Ohio, voters will cast ballots Tuesday in Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and the Northern Marianas Islands, a U.S. commonwealth in the Pacific Ocean.

Like Rubio in his own home state, Kasich’s chips are all on Ohio. It’s generally expected that a presidential candidate popular in his state – and Rubio and Kasich have been – should win at home. Otherwise, why get in the race at all?

It’s an assessment that likely contributed to their decisions to run in the first place. Because not only do Florida and Ohio each award a trove of Republican convention delegates and a boost toward the 1,237 needed to win the nomination, both also are swing states in the general election – pivotal to winning the presidency.

If you can’t win your home state, it’s rough to rationally explain how you win in other states. This is literally, the ‘there’s-no-other-option’ moment.

David Winston, a Republican strategist

Just ask Al Gore, who lost his home state of Tennessee in the 2000 general election, then lost Florida in a vote-count dispute and with it the White House.

But like much of the presidential race, “there’s nothing that’s gone according to prediction,” said Republican pollster Neil Newhouse, who worked for a group that aided Jeb Bush’s unsuccessful primary campaign.

“For Rubio and Kasich, this is not a battle to get 1,237 delegates. This a battle to deny Trump,” he said. “It’s not the same. It’s . . . about hopefully getting some delegates.”

Just consider that a Rubio aide last week urged the senator’s supporters in Ohio to vote for Kasich, and said Kasich backers in Florida should return return the favor.

This is a very different year. Trump has so scrambled the political calculations, it’s just unclear how many of the old rules work.

John Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics

“If you’re a Republican primary voter in Ohio and you don’t want Donald Trump to be the nominee, John Kasich is your best bet,” Alex Conant told CNN. “If you’re a Republican primary voter here in Florida and you don’t want Donald Trump to be your nominee, Marco Rubio is your best bet. That is indisputable.”

A presidential hopeful’s home state primary is supposed to be a haven, a place where opponents either fear to tread or just don’t think it worth their while. Hillary Clinton largely ignored the Vermont Democratic primary earlier this month, figuring that its 14 delegates were snugly in Sen. Bernie Sanders’ back pocket. It was his state. And indeed they were; he won 86 percent of the vote.

“In most traditional years, there wouldn’t be a contest in Florida or Ohio because the other candidates ordinarily avoid the home state of their opponents,” said John Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron in Ohio. “What’s the point? But this is a very different year. Trump has so scrambled the political calculations, it’s just unclear how many of the old rules work.”

David Goldstein: 202-383-6105, @GoldsteinDavidJ

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