Thousands of South Carolina residents headed to the polls today to vote for a Republican nominee for president, but one candidate, John Kasich, was hundreds of miles north making his pitch in Vermont and Massachusetts.
Kasich, who is not expected to finish strong in South Carolina, has skipped ahead to cherry-picking states who hold their primaries in early March, hoping his moderate stances will give him a boost at the ballot boxes when more delegates are at stake.
Kasich held a town hall-style meeting this morning in Colchester, Vermont, outside heavily Democratic Burlington. Hundreds attended that meeting and a second town hall he held in Worcester, Massachusetts, this afternoon. Tonight, the Ohio governor planned to watch the South Carolina results roll in at a hotel north of Boston.
The campaign said it hopes to perform well in Virginia and Tennessee, which hold their GOP primaries March 1. Kasich has said he would “roll up the carpets and go back” home if he does not perform well in Michigan on March 8, and on Thursday he told reporters he expected to win Ohio’s primary on March 15.
“We don’t think the nomination will be decided in a de facto way until April or May at least,” his chief strategist, John Weaver, told reporters this morning.
Massachusetts and Vermont may provide Kasich with a friendlier ground even if they, and particularly Vermont, do not matter as much in the grand scheme, according to Jeffrey Berry, a professor of political science at Tufts University.
“The Massachusetts Republican party, as Republican parties go these days, is relatively moderate,” Berry told ABC News. If Kasich won here and Vermont while the rest of the states that vote March 1 were split among others, Berry said, Kasich could get a lift.
“We are gonna exceed expectations,” Kasich said Friday, when asked in South Carolina about the importance of Massachusetts. “We don’t have to win these states, but we have to keep going, and, you know, we have a pretty good team there.”
There are 116 delegates up for grabs in Massachusetts, more than in any state that will have held a primary before it.
One question remains: Who will Massachusetts’ Republican Gov. Charlie Baker endorse, if anyone? Backer supported New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for the Republican nomination before Christie dropped out of the race this month.
Not many candidates have made moves here, though, as they continue to vie for votes in South Carolina and Nevada, which holds its GOP caucus on Tuesday.
No candidate has a strong ground game in Massachusetts, where Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 3-to-1, although Trump has held a few well-attended rallies in the state, Berry said. “There are campaigns, but it’s clearly not a priority for anyone,” he said. “In terms of ground game, it’s pretty marginal at best for any of the candidates.”