Strategic Perception, Inc.

Kasich campaign has been laying groundwork for a surge since the summer

The Concord Monitor
JANUARY 20, 2016

Republican presidential candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich shakes hands during a campaign stop at Morse Sporting Goods store, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016, in Hillsboro, NH AP Photo/Jim Cole

Republican presidential candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks with sportsmen during a campaign stop at Morse Sporting Goods store, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016, in Hillsboro, NH AP Photo/Jim Cole

While the news media have kept a laser-beam focus on Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has been quietly climbing in New Hampshire.

Three polls released in the last few weeks show Kasich in second place among the Granite State's likely Republican voters. The most recent poll from American Research Group shows Kasich within spitting distance of the billionaire businessman; 20 percent to Trump's 27, with a 4-point margin of error.

In between campaign stops in Henniker and Concord on Tuesday, Kasich did the opposite of what Trump would do; he brushed off the latest poll.

"I think they're all about trends," he said. "We don't pay much attention to all these polls."

Still, Kasich and campaign advisers point to the recent numbers as a sign that a steady stream of campaign stops combined with a solid ground game by Kasich's campaign and the super PAC supporting him, New Day for America, are paying off.

"That's an indication we're doing the right thing," said former senator John E. Sununu, a top adviser to Kasich's campaign.

With the influence of Trump and the size of the Republican field, "it's a little tougher to break through, but obviously we've been able to do it," Sununu added.

In addition to the polls, Kasich has been enjoying more good news in the state with Republican endorsements from three New Hampshire newspapers: the Telegraph of Nashua, Foster's Daily Democrat and the Portsmouth Herald.

Bundled up in a puffy teal winter jacket Tuesday, Kasich was in a jovial mood as he toured the Henniker Brewery and sampled a small glass of beer before retreating back to the warmth of his bus.

In a taproom crowded with reporters and local voters, the first request Kasich fielded came from Henniker resident Christine Burritt, who asked for his take on corruption in Washington.

"Minimal," Kasich responded, prompting a surprised look from Burritt.

"So why can't the Democrats and Republicans work together? What can you do to fix that?" she shot back.

Kasich's response was to call for bipartisanship, a rare plug in a 2016 Republican campaign where divisive rhetoric in stump speeches is commonplace.

"Fix these problems. Stop fighting," he said. "What's been happening is we have the parties very divided, they're even divided among themselves. So when somebody says something that is intense, then these loud voices praise them."

Kasich then referenced "the silent majority," a phrase that's become popular among the Trump contingent to describe voters fed up with Washington and the political establishment. But he had a different take on the term.

"That's not where the silent majority is; the silent majority wants people to work together," he said as a few audience members nodded.

As his bus drove from Henniker to another campaign stop in Concord, Kasich again reiterated that while he sees people concerned about national security and getting a good job, he struggles to see the angry voters everyone's talking about.

He also rejected the notion that an outsider candidate is the best one to get things done, and said he believes voters are looking for someone with experience.

"People won't believe you unless you can prove to them you've done some of these things," he said. "I have a real sense and experience and knowledge of what we can do."

Kasich's campaign has been hyper-focused on New Hampshire since the start of the political season, and both the campaign and New Day for America PAC have been laying the foundation for a strong ground game since the summer.

The two groups have a comparable number of staff members and offices across the state.

New Day New Hampshire State Director Grant Schaffer said his PAC has focused its attention on knocking on doors, making phone calls and building up a large voter database.

New Day staffers have been gathering data and honing their scripts, trying to make some inroads with people who may identify with candidates like Trump.

"We've been able to focus on all these different groups," Schaffer said. "I will tell you that the successes we have with Trump supporters is because of the conversations we have with them."

Between New Day and Kasich's campaign, Schaffer estimates they have the largest ground game presence in the Republican field.

"This has been a very general election-style campaign we're running," he said.

Still, no matter how many voters they put in the database, Kasich's campaign and New Day staff said it comes down to how much the governor resonates with New Hampshire voters.

"I know him, I've seen the kind of leader he is," Sununu said, adding the recent surge "shows we've got a candidate that's got the right message and an organization that's connecting with voters."

In the chilly Henniker Brewing Company, it appeared the strategy had worked for Burritt, who said Kasich's answers made an impression. She and her husband, Steve, the town's fire chief, said they are looking for a moderate, bipartisan candidate.

"Politics has gotten mean," Christine Burritt said.

In addition to Kasich, the Burritts are looking at Jeb Bush, but Christine Burritt said she also wouldn't rule out voting for a Democrat in the general election.

"We don't vote for a party, we vote for a person," she said.

Read the original story at The Concord Monitor.