As Kasich was shaking hands in Columbus, Trump—the current Republican front-runner, because life is hilarious—was on stage in Sun City, South Carolina, reading Graham’s cellphone number out to the crowd.
Cable news went crazy, and interest in Kasich (if there was any there to begin with) immediately disappeared.
The incident shows just how uniquely hard it is to break through these days as a second- or third-tier presidential candidate. One minute, it’s your moment. And the next … Trumped.
Kasich is one of five candidates on the cusp of appearing at the first debate in Cleveland on Aug. 6 and, like them, he is doing everything in his power to make sure his poll numbers are just high enough to get on the stage. Only the top 10, as judged by polling averages, will get into the main event—with the remainders left battling it out at an earlier time slot the same day.
According to the Real Clear Politics average, Kasich is tied with former Senator Rick Santorum at 1.5 percent support. The two are followed by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who’s at 1.3 percent, Carly Fiorina, who’s at just 0.8 percent, and former New York governor George Pataki at 0.3 percent.
Two Republicans, former Texas governor Rick Perry and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, are right on the line, with 2.0 and 2.3 percent, respectively.
Kasich’s strategy to surpass (or at least tie) his competitors began Tuesday with his announcement inside the student union at Ohio State University, his alma mater.
Kasich’s speech, which at times was so sprawling and free associative it veered into MadLibs territory, highlighted a résumé that should be attractive to most Republican voters: He’s a Midwestern two-term governor with high approval ratings, a policy wonk on budget issues, and was a member of Congress for nearly 20-years, where he served on the Armed Services Committee.
Sounds like a strong contender right? Not yet.
By announcing so close to the debate, Kasich could get a bump of a percentage or two that would put him just inside the top tier. His announcement was followed by an appearance on Sean Hannity’s show, a three-day swing through New Hampshire, then on to stops in Iowa and South Carolina. In short, he’s going to be everywhere.
One Ohio Republican strategist with knowledge of the governor’s strategy said the old-fashioned barn-storming, coupled with TV appearances and ads from Kasich’s Super PAC, could give him the needed boost to get into the main stage.
“It’s absolutely vital he’s in the debate, it’s his home state,” the Republican said.
Meanwhile, former Texas governor Rick Perry has talked his way back into the news cycle by aggressively going after Trump. He will even go as far to call him a “cancer” in remarks Wednesday afternoon, according to Real Clear Politics’ Rebecca Berg.
“Let no one be mistaken: Donald Trump’s candidacy is a cancer on conservatism, and it must be clearly diagnosed, excised and discarded,” RCP reported Perry will say in remarks at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C.
This follows days of Perry slamming Trump’s negative comments about Senator John McCain’s war record and calling for Trump to withdraw from the race—all the while reminding the American public that Perry, himself, is a veteran. Before that, Perry had been extremely critical of Trump’s comments on immigration.
And their fight doesn’t end there. As Trump launched withering criticism on Perry from the South Carolina stage—he suggested numerous times that Perry was just too dumb to be president—Perry’s campaign retweeted old Donald Trump missives praising the then-Texas governor.
“Rick Perry is right when he says we must stand by Israel in the UN,” said one tweet from September 2011.
“Rick Perry—a good man, a great family and a patriot,” said another from January 2012.
And so on.
But did attacking Trump really raise Perry’s profile? Maybe.
After all, in a recent ABC/Washington Post poll, Perry jumped from 1 percent to 4 percent in the field. And since 0.5 percent is all that currently separates those who are in and those who will be banished to the B-list debate, why not give hitting it a try?
But actually it might not be that easy, said Jeff Horwitt, a vice president at Hart Research Associates, a D.C.-based polling firm.
Horwitt said Perry’s bump could be in the margin of error—since moving polling numbers significantly is harder than it looks.
“The criteria for the Fox News debate does put the lower-tier candidates in a somewhat unique position at this early stage of trying to attach themselves to the news of the day and make themselves relevant so they can hold on and be one of the 10 candidates standing on the stage,” he told The Daily Beast. “While the race is incredibly fluid at this early stage, it is going to take more than nipping at the heels of more relevant first-tier candidates to really move poll numbers.”
Speaking of, Carly Fiorina has been fond of slamming Hillary Clinton and drawing comparisons between their résumés, which has earned her some headlines in her first months of the campaign.
But in the run-up to the final week before the debate, Fiorina’s campaign is taking the more conventional route, introducing the candidate to voters and traveling to early states like Iowa, which she will visit this week.
For his part, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who, thanks to Trump, no longer gets the “most blunt” award in the field, told reporters on Monday he wasn’t worried about getting into the debate.
“The source of my confidence is that the people behind me aren’t gonna catch me and I’m more likely to move up than I will to move down,” Christie said during a campaign stop in South Carolina, according to a transcript of his remarks. “So, I’ll be there. I know there are some who hope I’m not. But, I’ll be there. Don’t worry about it.”
But Horwitt said, at the end of the day, getting up in the polls and staying there all comes down to the basics.
“It comes back to the fundamentals that separate first-tier from lower-tier candidates,” he said. “Money, organization, and a uniquely clear and compelling rationale for your own candidacy.”