Kasich team takes long view in New Hampshire

Gov. John Kasich on State of the Union: Full interview
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Story highlights

  • Ohio Gov. John Kasich's supporters are banking on a slow, methodical approach to winning New Hampshire
  • In the process, Kasich appears to be drawing from Bush supporters in the critical first primary

(CNN)Ohio Gov. John Kasich has been riding high in New Hampshire over the last few weeks, defying early predictions that there wasn't enough room in the moderate lanes of the party as he's pulled up side-by-side with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in this critical primary.

And Kasich's supporters there see a path to victory for him, but it's going to be slow and methodical -- nothing quite like the wild spike that Donald Trump rode to the top of the polls, where he remains Wednesday.
Former Sen. John E. Sununu, son of the longtime New Hampshire fixture John H. Sununu and Kasich's top adviser up here, explained that it will require telling the same Kasich story, over and over, at as many town halls and events as the campaign can muster.
    "Even in New Hampshire, it's still early. Voters tune in slowly, and that means candidates need to constantly introduce themselves -- like the shampoo bottle says: 'lather, rinse, repeat,'" Sununu said. "It's a mistake to think that after a couple of town hall meetings, everyone knows who you are."
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    Trump remains the candidate to beat in New Hampshire, holding steady leads over Kasich and Bush. But unlike Bush, Kasich has largely opted against engaging Trump -- who, for his part, has so far declined to ding Kasich despite his frequent attacks on other GOP candidates.
    Kasich campaign spokesman Chris Schrimpf said the Ohio governor has been to New Hampshire 12 times so far and is planning another trip next week -- with stops throughout the state on Tuesday and Wednesday.
    Kasich has long invested in New Hampshire, making winning there essential. His affiliated group, New Day for America, was the first group to make a major buy on-air in New Hampshire, going up with an introductory ad more than a week before he even entered the race.
    He rode a post-announcement bump on to a coveted spot at the first, prime-time Republican debate and has been riding high since then. In a Boston Herald poll taken just after the debate, Kasich pulled into an effective tie with Bush, trailing the former Florida governor 12% to 13%, though both men trailed Trump.
    Chief Kasich strategist John Weaver played up that post-debate bump in a memo emailed to campaign supporters last Friday.
    "Our campaign has paid special attention to New Hampshire, home of the first-in-the-nation primary. That focus has been paying off," Weaver wrote.
    Kasich picked up a key endorsement from veteran New Hampshire Republican leader Tom Rath last week and announced some other key backers, including a former New Hampshire state House speaker.
    Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, said Kasich "has been doing a great job" methodically building his New Hampshire operation by going on air, picking up key New Hampshire supporters and showing up to events in person.
    "What he's doing is slowly picking up these people who aren't necessarily going to go with candidates like Trump" and others, Levesque said.
    And Sununu, Levesque noted, is the "gold standard" for leading a New Hampshire effort.
    Former Sen. Gordon Humphrey, who served in the U.S. Senate until 1990, stood in the back of the Elks Lodge in Salem last Wednesday and listened to Kasich make his pitch.
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    Humphrey said he was impressed by Kasich's "Reaganesque" persona and is "leaning" toward endorsing him, but hasn't made a decision yet.
    One person he's not endorsing is Bush, he said, in part because he doesn't like dynasties.
    "John exudes energy, he's dynamic," Humphrey said. "Jeb Bush is brilliant and was a great governor, but he just doesn't seem dynamic to me. I think that would explain why, unexpectedly why, John Kasich is doing so very well here, especially when relative to Jeb Bush."
    New Hampshire Republicans have often opted for more moderate Republicans in contested primaries. Romney easily won the state in 2012, although libertarian favorite Ron Paul pulled into second place with almost one-quarter of the vote. And, in 2008, eventual nominee John McCain edged out Romney, although both men accounted for roughly two-thirds of the votes cast.
    Kasich will return to New Hampshire next week with stops in Bedford, Hooksett, Henniker, New London and Lebanon.