According to ace Boston Globe political reporter James Pindell, Ohio Governor John Kasich is making a move in New Hampshire. In his influential daily “Ground Game” newsletter, Pindell writes that Kasich “is moving up in first-in-the-nation polls and has the most impressive team of endorsements in the state. Kasich’s list of backers include former US senator John E. Sununu, NH House Majority Leader Jack Flanagan, former Republican National Committeewoman Nancy Merrill and, most recently, local Republican savant Tom Rath.“
This is not great news for Governor Christie. Kasich’s emergence as the establishment alternative to Jeb Bush—the Washington Post reports that Bush had worked especially hard to draw in Rath—makes it harder for Christie to position himself in that role.
Yesterday’s Franklin Pierce/Boston Herald poll showed Kasich in third place at 12 percent of Republican primary voters, behind first-place Donald Trump (18 percent) and runner-up
Jeb Bush (13 percent). Ted Cruz is next at 10 percent with Carly Fiorina in fifth place with 9 percent. Christie is tied for 10th place with Mike Huckabee, both at 3 percent. For Christie, who was at 10 percent in the last survey, conducted in March 2015, that’s a loss of 7 points – matched by Rand Paul, who fell from 13 to 6 and exceeded by Scott Walker, who fell from 15 to 4.
Stylistically, Kasich and Christie present a similar profile: outspoken governors of purple states who are blunt and unafraid to make enemies. So it’s hard to imagine that there’s room for both of them to collect support if the current “establishment frontrunner,” Bush, loses traction.
This reality has got to sting Christie, who less than a year ago called Kasich his “best friend among all of the other Republican governors,” according to the AP. Back in 2010, Christie campaigned hard for Kasich in 2010, including a trip to Cincinnati that raised some eyebrows.
In fact, there’s actually a surprisingly close nexus between Kasich and New Jersey. The late Bob Franks, longtime GOP Congressman who nearly upset Jon Corzine in 2000 to become the first Republican Senator since 1972, considered Kasich one of his closest friends. Kasich is actually godfather to Franks’ oldest daughter and that closeness sucked in others in Franks’ orbit, who are now close to Kasich, such as Roger Bodman, the veteran lobbyist who had worked in the Kean administration; Alfred Fasola, the business vet who advised Kean; Mike DuHaime, who was key to all of Franks’ races and is now Christie’s senior advisor; and David Wildstein, the founder of this website who joined DuHaime on Franks’ campaigns.
Kasich and Franks became close while serving together on the House Budget Committee in the 1990’s. Kasich and Christie saw each other at the memorial service held for Franks in April 2010 at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Both delivered eulogies at the event and Christie, at the height of his popularity, agreed to help Gov. Kasich become governor of Ohio, and he delivered. Bodman even helped raise money for that campaign.
Another tantalizing angle comes from Advance Publications. The publishing behemoth owns the biggest newspaper and website in each state: the Star-Ledger in New Jersey and the Plain Dealer in Cleveland. Their websites are identical in design and functionality, but their treatment of the two governors could not be more different. While the Star-Ledger actually endorsed Christie for re-election in 2013, it was notable for its begrudging language, stating that “The property tax burden has grown sharply on his watch” and concluding “Christie is overrated. His spin is way ahead of his substance.” The paper stated that it was only endorsing Christie because his opponent, Barbara Buono, was so “deeply flawed.” And then, less than 6 months later, the editorial board’s Tom Moran took the stunning step of rescinding the paper’s choice, calling his own endorsement “regrettable” in a headline. By contrast, sister paper the Plain Dealer full-throatedly backed John Kasich, praising his “gutsy leadership” and giving him the endorsement he “clearly deserves.” It will be interesting to see how enthusiastically each newspaper covers its hometown governor.
Meanwhile, this week’s poll, showing Kasich rising from 1 to 12 percent since March while Christie has fallen from 10 to 3 in the state that Christie has identified as key to his presidential ambitions, has got to hurt a little bit. It’s fair to say that Christie might have hope hoped that Kasich would emerge as a key surrogate for his campaign in New Hampshire. Instead, Christie’s friend and fellow governor seems to be taking his support.