Months of campaigning in New Hampshire appeared to have paid off for John Kasich, after the Ohio governor saw his support surge in primary returns Tuesday evening. Kasich had been overshadowed by harder-edged rivals throughout the primary season but secured second place as he prepared to move on to South Carolina.
Kasich was polling around 16 percent with two-thirds of the returns in, trailing behind GOP front-runner Donald Trump, who held 34 percent. Live-stream coverage of the New Hampshire primary results and candidate speeches can be viewed on ABC News.
"There’s magic in the air with this campaign, because we don’t see it as just a campaign [but] as an opportunity to change the country,” Kasich said in his speech to supporters Tuesday evening. “We have had tens and tens and tens of millions of dollars spent against us with negative advertising. That’s the old politics. We never went negative because we have more good to sell than to spend our time being critical of somebody else.”
The second-term Ohio governor’s potential electoral strength is less shocking than it might seem at first. He has distinct assets among the candidates who will move into the next round of contests. Kasich is the only sitting governor among the top-finishing candidates in New Hampshire — and he comes from an important swing state, one that Republicans have had to carry to win the White House. That provides him both with a platform to champion legislation in real time that could burnish his conservative bona fides among Republican voters, and it may help him raise money among corporations looking to do business in his state.
While Kasich struggled to raise as much money as many of his rivals so far in this cycle, he was a prolific fundraiser both in Ohio as governor and previously as a congressman who ascended to chair the powerful House Budget Committee. In all, he raised more than $8 million during his Washington career and another $39 million during his stint in Columbus, giving him deep connections to a donor class that could now flock to his campaign.
Buttressing those fundraising prospects are Kasich’s connections to Wall Street. As IBT previously reported, Kasich spent years as an executive at Lehman Brothers, allowing him to travel the country building relationships throughout the financial sector. As a congressman, the securities and investment industry was his single biggest campaign contributor, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Kasich has cast himself in a more moderate, pragmatic light than rivals such as Trump — but his name recognition among conservative voters was likely boosted by a stint as a Fox News firebrand on his own weekend show.
The other Republican governors in the race, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, also struggled to remain relevant in the GOP contest and didn't quite achieve the success they may have needed. Bush, who was initially the expected front-runner of the campaign, has been maligned as “low-energy” by Trump and has failed to build excitement around his campaign, despite having large donors; Christie, notable for lashing out at other candidates, has continued to face criticism for past scandals as governor of New Jersey. Bush has enough money to keep going through the next few contests; Christie may not.
“This campaign is not dead,” Bush said during a campaign speech Tuesday evening. His supporters responded, “Jeb! Jeb! Jeb!”
Kasich put all his chips in New Hampshire over the last two months. And it paid off. Often termed a “moderate” in the race, he had previously failed to stand out with his relatively nuanced views.
Analysts widely thought Trump’s popularity would wane with his routine outlandish statements and perceived weak knowledge of policy. But seasoned politicians in the race have had a rough time gaining traction in a Republican campaign that has continued to be dominated by political outsiders. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won Iowa but didn't garner much support in New Hampshire, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio ended up fifth.
The candidates have attacked one another in recent days as they have battled to rise in New Hampshire. Christie mocked Kasich, Rubio and Bush following a ABC News debate Saturday for maintaining confident attitudes about their campaigns. Christie also sought to portray Kasich as a longtime Washington insider, alleging he is “a creature of that culture.” While Christie's attacks apparently damaged Rubio, they didn't seem to hurt Kasich.