KEENE – As the presidential candidates canvassed across Iowa this weekend, trying to raise last-minute support before the state’s primary caucuses Monday, there was one candidate who didn’t bother to make the trip. John Kasich was 1,200 miles away in Keene, N.H., holding his 83rd and 84th town hall meetings in the Granite State.
It’s part of a strategy—focusing his nomination hopes on New Hampshire—that Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio, said he’s had since the beginning of his campaign.
“From the beginning, it (New Hampshire) is more manageable,” Kasich said after one meeting at the Cheshire County Historical Society. “You want to be in a position where you can meet people in person. Iowa is hard because everything is so spread out.”
And it seems to be paying off. While Kasich lags behind in national polls of the crowded Republican field, he has surged in recent weeks in New Hampshire, where he hopes his moderate appeal can attract independent voters like John McCain did in 2000.
A Suffolk University poll published Saturday has him at second place with 12 percent, above fellow establishment candidates like Jeb Bush (11.2%), Marco Rubio (9.6%) and Chris Christie (5.6%).
“I’ve always seen New Hampshire as a great launching pad,” said John Weaver, a prominent GOP strategist who has been advising Gov. Kasich. Weaver explained that Kasich’s message– a responsible government that refuses to leave people behind– opens him up to voters that others in the GOP can’t reach. “In terms of his own lane, he’s a conservative with a broad appeal.”
The next two weeks will determine whether Kasich’s progress in New Hampshire can materialize into votes on primary day, and whether that surge in support can withstand a low placing in the Iowa caucuses to propel him into South Carolina and Nevada with momentum.
Weaver questioned how influential the Iowa caucuses were to New Hampshire voters, and he said he believes they have the organization in place to overcome any such decay in support.
“I’ve never met a voter who said, ‘Oh, I was going to vote for you but then you lost in Iowa,’” Weaver said. “He’ll (Kasich) have done 100 town hall meetings by the primary, and he has 7 of the 8 New Hampshire newspaper endorsements, plus the New York Times and Boston Globe.”
The New York Times unrolled their primary endorsements Saturday morning, just before Kasich addressed the crowd gathered in the Cheshire County Historical Society.
Many of the undecided voters who attended the rally agreed that Iowa would have little impact on whether they support the Ohio governor or not.
“Probably not, I look at the caucuses as very small and a different sort of thing,” said Perry Faulkner, a 47-year-old Democrat who lives north of Keene and works for a medical device company. “I’m really into foreign policy, particularly the Middle East, so I’m interested to hear what he has to say about that. You haven’t heard a lot about that on the Republican side, beyond the stuff that Cruz says.”
Martha Ladam, a 70-year-old retired secretary from Keene, said she was a registered Democrat but was considering registering as an independent so she can vote in the Republican primary.
“I’m not thrilled with the Democrats, I seem to get more conservative with age,” Ladam said. “He just seems sane, like someone you would leave with your kids with.”
She also said Iowa wouldn’t impact her decision, calling the caucuses a “different thing,” but added that Kasich’s recent surge in New Hampshire definitely matters to her.
At the end of his question-and-answer session in Keene, Kasich said he wanted to bring people together and asked for the crowd for their support.
“If I get snuffed out here, I’m going home,” he told the crowd. “If I do well, the country will hear what I have to say.”