Kasich woos vote-rich Phila. suburbs

Gov. John Kasich arrives at an event that drew about 800 to Villanova University. Ohio was his first primary victory, but he said the campaign was moving to states more favorable to him.
Gov. John Kasich arrives at an event that drew about 800 to Villanova University. Ohio was his first primary victory, but he said the campaign was moving to states more favorable to him. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 17, 2016

Still riding high from his home-state primary win, Ohio Gov. John Kasich campaigned Wednesday in the Philadelphia suburbs and said neither of his remaining rivals for the Republican presidential nomination could win a general election.

Kasich spoke to a crowd of about 800 that filled two rooms in Villanova University's Connelly Center. He argued that he would be able to compete the best in moderate and Democratic-leaning states such as Pennsylvania, with his record as a pragmatic problem-solver and his studious avoidance of personal attacks.

"I want you to know as I continue to pursue this campaign, I'm not going to take the low road to the highest office in the land," Kasich said to cheers. The line has appeared in his stump speeches in recent days, a way of referring to Donald Trump without naming him.

That tone sounded right to Nancy Malecki, 61, of Harleysville, who came to hear Kasich. She said she recently wrote to him suggesting a slogan: "Calm, consistent, candid, competent. End the chaos: Vote Kasich."

Malecki, who works for her husband's painting business and as a substitute teacher, said she followed politics closely and is a Republican, but had never seen a primary campaign this bruising.

"It's so chaotic," she said. "I pray Kasich gets in."

Pennsylvania's April 26 Republican primary could matter in the nomination contest, as Trump, Kasich, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz fight to sew up a majority of delegates to the GOP's national convention.

Kasich defeated Trump by 47 percent to 36 percent in Ohio's GOP primary Tuesday, his first victory of the campaign. Trump swept to victory in Florida, dispatching Sen. Marco Rubio from the race, as well as in Illinois and North Carolina.

In his victory, the Ohio governor smashed Trump in all the major urban and suburban centers in the state. He also performed well and picked up delegates in the historically moderate suburbs of Chicago and in Charlotte, N.C.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, an Allentown Republican, said Kasich had the tone, temperament, and policy substance to play well in the Philadelphia suburbs and the Lehigh Valley.

"Before yesterday, John Kasich was a number of people's second choice," Dent said. Now, "I suspect a number of people are going to make John Kasich their first choice."

Jason Campani of Marlton, who attended the Villanova event, said Kasich had been his favorite Republican candidate from the start. He, too, admires the Ohioan's tone.

"Like Kasich, I don't want to run a negative campaign," Campani said when asked about his views of the other candidates. "I'll refrain from all the anti-Trump talk."

Campani, 42, who works in finance, said he thought Kasich was intelligent and credible.

"I'm proud to talk to my son about this candidate," he said. "I'm not so proud to talk about the other candidates."

Frank Antonini of Wayne said he had already decided to vote for Trump. He said he came to see Kasich because the event was close to his home.

Antonini, 25, who works in sales, said he liked Kasich but did not think he can win the nomination at this point. And he said he has been pleasantly surprised that Trump has done so well.

"I like that he's aggressive," he said of Trump. "I like that he's attracting a lot of nonvoters."

Antonini was at the town hall with his uncle Tony Cantone of Schuylkill Township, another Trump backer. Both like Trump's immigration policy.

"We need that wall," said Cantone, 69, who is retired from the Air Force.

Kasich hopes to emerge in a contested GOP convention in Cleveland this summer as the consensus nominee, likely his only shot at the top of the ticket. Many Republican leaders are seeking to deny Trump the 1,237 delegates he would need to win the nomination on the first ballot.

If no candidate has a majority at the point, many of the delegates would be free to vote as they chose, likely setting off a whirlwind of deal-making.

The candidate running second in delegates won, Cruz, said earlier Wednesday that Kasich was essentially a spoiler now, helping Trump by remaining in the race.

Cruz, a conservative with ties to the tea party and evangelical Christian activists, argues that the party should rally around him as the most credible alternative to Trump - though Cruz is hardly more popular with the party leadership than the real estate mogul is.

"Look, let me just tell you something: Neither of those guys can win a general election," Kasich said Wednesday in a brief news conference after his Villanova event, responding to Cruz's characterization. "Maybe they're spoiling it for the Republican Party and the conservative movement."

A Mercyhurst University poll released this week showed Kasich outperforming all other GOP candidates against Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania, leading her by 49-36 in a potential matchup. Trump fared worst, trailing her by 35-43.

Republican leaders in Pennsylvania and New Jersey fear Trump or Cruz would be far out of step with the moderate Philadelphia region, and could drag down the party's other candidates this fall. Kasich is now the only mainstream choice left in the GOP field, after Rubio's campaign flamed out.

Kasich was born in McKees Rocks, near Pittsburgh; governs a neighboring state with a similar political profile; and has been endorsed by former Pennsylvania Govs. Tom Ridge and Dick Thornburgh.

Still, some Pennsylvania GOP insiders wonder if it's worth backing Kasich, since his path to the nomination relies on a contested convention. Soon they will need to make up their minds. With Rubio's exit, a contingent of state power brokers that had backed the Florida senator is up for grabs.

After Kasich left Villanova on Wednesday, his campaign got a bit of good news: A lawsuit challenging his petitions to qualify for the Pennsylvania ballot, brought by Rubio allies, had been dropped.

Kasich noted the race was now moving into states where he believes he can do well - New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania among them.

"We're going into where my strength is," he said. "I've been playing in somebody else's home court, and now we're getting to my home-court advantage."

tfitzgerald@phillynews.com

215-854-2718@tomfitzgerald

www.philly.com/bigtent

Washington correspondent Jonathan Tamari contributed to this article.

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