John Kasich has bet a lot on a strong New Hampshire finish and it looks like it will pay off handsomely.
New Hampshire is a notoriously tough state to handicap in the primaries but certain things cannot be dismissed off-hand, and one of those things right now is Governor John Kasich of Ohio may be on the verge of upending the narrative about the GOP primary.
Looking at the polling headed into last night’s debate, Rubio, Kasich and Fiorina were the only three candidates showing upward trends since the Iowa caucus, and in the battle amongst “the governors” Kasich had a 5 point lead over Jeb Bush and a 9 point lead over Chris Christie; and was trailing Rubio for second place by less than 3%.
Image created with HuffPost Pollster
Consensus opinion from a broad spectrum of pundits, strategists and voters was Kasich won the debate or, at a minimum, had the most impactful night of the seven candidates. What Pat Garofalo had to say in US News and World Report late Saturday night has now been echoed by numerous media outlets.
Kasich, meanwhile, did what Kasich does best, acting the adult in a sea of children, even managing to brush off a question about the more liberally inclined editorial boards that have been endorsing him recently. He and Bush also had a nice little moment of comity, exchanging ideas for a first 100 days agenda.
On the flip side, Rubio easily had his worst night on the debate stage; he was left looking like the hapless first-term senator with no accomplishments that the other candidates say he is. Cruz was invisible for long stretches, notable mostly for vigorously defending his call for carpet bombing the Middle East and for defending waterboarding as not-quite-torture.
While both Bush and Christie helped themselves on Saturday night, it may well be too little, too late for either to regain enough ground to move the needle headed down south. And while Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina have interesting life stories they are clearly in line to be two of the next group to pack up and head home.
Lest there be any doubt about Kasich’s performance last night, emotion can skew numbers immediately after a debate but by the following day opinions are more measured and far less prone to “heat of the moment” or “knee jerk” reactions, and as of Sunday afternoon more than one unofficial poll had Kasich clearly the largest benefactor from his Saturday night performance.
— Michael Smerconish (@smerconish) February 7, 2016
If Gov. Kasich’s debate win plus his previous momentum in New Hampshire equal a strong second place finish on Tuesday, the narrative headed to South Carolina may well be entirely different than heretofore. We may finally start to hear about experience versus hyperbole, issues of substance instead of sensationalist claims, and those GOP voters who want change but not at the price of aptitude and competence may have found their candidate in John Kasich.