BEREA, Ohio — John Kasich singlehandedly kept Donald Trump from locking up the Republican nomination Tuesday night and it may be because a new breed of voter has entered the 2016 Republican contest: Kasich Democrats.
While the Ohio governor was projected to win by a narrow margin, he ended up defeating Trump handily by 11 points.
Conversations with numerous voters at Kasich events indicate that he has an appeal with registered Democrats that other Republican candidates lack—and those voters likely helped him a lot on Tuesday.
Pam Cupari, of Canton, is one of them.
Cupari, a registered Democrat, attended a Romney/Kasich event at an aviation museum the day before the election and said she would change her registration to back Kasich.
“Because of all I’ve listened to, I just figured that’s the best thing to do right now,” she said, laughing a bit. “It’s the best choice.”
It remains to be seen how many voters like Cupari will boost Kasich going forward in places like Arizona and Utah, which hold their primaries on March 22. Both states allow voters to change their party registration on Election Day.
Internal numbers from the Ohio Republican Party provided to The Daily Beast showed that nearly 30,000 Democrats voted in the Republican primary during early voting. And MSNBC exit polls showed that 7 percent of the Election Day voters in the Republican primary were Democrat crossovers.
That’s all circumstantial evidence; it’s plausible that other factors gave Kasich a surprisingly large win in his home state. But it was a theme reiterated over and over again through two days of interviews at Kasich campaign events, including town halls, tent meetings, and one check-in at a pizzeria. The governor attracted registered Democrats in a way other Republican candidates don’t.
You’d be hard pressed to find a Democrat at a Ted Cruz event (I’ve been to a host of them and never met one), but at Kasich’s campaign stops, easily one-third of the people I spoke with were independents or registered Democrats.
In fact, there were even Democrats at his victory party.
One attendee, Ray Miller, said he travelled all the way from Maryland to volunteer—spending the past few days chatting up strangers in McDonalds and encouraging them to back the governor. And he sported a Democrats for Kasich T-shirt. He said Kasich is the first Republican he’s supported since 1960, when he gave a speech in high school backing Nixon.
“I think nice is important,” he said.
And then there was the Trump factor—Democrats who said they were so disturbed by the raving billionaire that they joined the other team to help keep him from winning.
Eric Hustak, a voter from Berea, Ohio, said he’s a Democrat but voted in the Republican primary because he didn’t want Trump to win.
“He’s a racist, a sexist, a bigot,” he said. “Any kind of -ist you can think of, he embodies.”
Norman Edwards, an African-American and lifelong Democrat who voted Kasich and said he called all his family members and told them to back him as well.
For Mike Pecchia, a registered Democrat who runs a private Christian school that works with underserved kids in Youngstown, it was all about the man himself.
After seeing Kasich at a town hall in a Youngstown warehouse, he told The Daily Beast that he would change his registration to vote for the governor.
“Everybody thinks people are changing to vote for Trump,” he said. “No. We’re changing to vote for him.”
Last night’s win wasn’t the first time Democrats boosted Kasich’s electoral fortunes. In his 2014 reelection bid, CNN exit polls showed he significantly increased his support among Democrats from his first statewide win in 2010. A quarter of Democratic voters backed him that year (in part due to a particularly awful Democratic candidate).
Dan Votaw, who said at an event by the Spread Eagle Tavern in Hanoverton that he was a liberal Democrat and said he was considering voting for the governor in the Republican primary.
“I heard Kasich speaking, and his thing is, vote for me because you believe in me, don’t vote for me against somebody else,” he said. “So that’s what I would do.”
“Kasich understands that sometimes you compromise.”