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Government/Politics

Could Ohio's Process For Voting In Primaries Help Or Hurt Governor John Kasich?

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Karen Kasler
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Voters arrive at and leave a Columbus area polling place in November, 2015

Recent polls show Gov. John Kasich has an uphill battle ahead of him going into the 13 Republican presidential primaries on Super Tuesday. Some party leaders are pressuring Kasich to drop out of the presidential race now, but Kasich is saying he has a path to victory, especially if he wins the Ohio primary on March 15. Can he? The answer isn’t easy.

A new Quinnipiac Poll shows Kasich would lose the Ohio primary to real estate mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump by five points if the election were held today.  But polls are using methodologies that might not prove fruitful. The polls don’t take into account that Ohio voters have some leeway where voting in primaries is concerned. Joshua Eck from the Ohio Secretary of State’s office says Ohio is an affiliation state.

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Credit CNN
Governor John Kasich was all smiles after placing second in the New Hampshire primary.

“You become affiliated with a political party by casting a vote in one of their partisan primary and this is a partisan primary.”

Eck explains a voter who, prior to this election, hasn’t voted in Republican primaries could do so this time around.

“You just need to tell them which party’s primary ballot you’d like to participate in and they will give you a ballot that corresponds with that. If you are an independent and you don’t want to participate in the presidential primary, you can ask to have an issues only ballot and you can vote on different ballot issues that might be available in your area.”

Eck says those who want to vote in the Democratic primary can do the same thing. But he says once they vote in that primary, they are considered affiliated with that party until they later vote in a different party’s primary.

Now that’s where the confusion comes in. When pollsters do polls, they sometimes ask people to self identify their political party or use data that might not be accurate. So a poll might be relying on skewed data.  And there’s might be intentional confusion.

“Oh you talk about blowing conventional wisdom to smithereens! Holy smokes, have you seen this?”

That’s conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh. Back in 2008, he urged his followers in Ohio to take a ballot in the Democratic primary to vote for Hillary Clinton as part of an effort to continue her contentious campaign with Barack Obama as long as possible, especially since the Republican nomination was basically sewn up at that point by John McCain. Nearly 2.4 million Ohio voters cast ballots in the Democratic primary in 2008. That was nearly double the number of people who voted in the Republican primary. In the end, Clinton won Ohio though Obama won the nomination and the presidency.

Fast forward to this year, when once again, there’s a lot of interest in the Ohio primary – especially on the Republican side, and not just because of John Kasich.

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Credit The State Of Ohio/Ohio Public Television
University of Cincinnati Political Science Professor, David Niven

“The range of choices is so much greater. You know it isn’t four different shades of the Republican candidate you’ve seen before.”

David Niven is a political science professor at the University of Cincinnati. He thinks there’s excitement because of the competition on the Republican side, but he doesn’t think there will be an onslaught of Democrats crossing over to vote Republican in Ohio’s primary.

“I think there’s probably a handful that Trump’s message probably appeals to but you do have a competitive Democratic race and you do have some races from top to bottom on the ticket on the Democratic side so it’s not as if you are getting a Democratic ballot that’s empty and an exciting Republican field.”

But will Ohio Democrats cross over to vote for Republican Gov. John Kasich? While Kasich says he has Democratic support in Ohio, Niven says Kasich might not be a factor in the presidential race at that point.

“It’s going to be hard for him to tout that second place finish in New Hampshire much longer and people don’t like throwing away their votes. Even if they might like the Governor here in Ohio on the Republican side, if there’s a competitive race between Trump, Rubio and Cruz, they are not going to put their vote on Kasich if he’s not a realistic candidate.”

The Secretary of State’s office says more than 150,000 absentee ballots have been requested, and at least 10,000 Ohioans have voted already. By the way, more than 557,000 Ohioans voted absentee in 2008 presidential primary. Depending on what happens during the next week, the Ohio primaries could play a big role in who becomes the party’s nominee for the general election. A new poll from Quinnipiac University shows Kasich losing the nomination to Trump. But a second Quinnipiac poll shows if Kasich won the nomination, he could beat both potential Democratic nominees in November by a double digit margin. In fact, it shows all of the Republican candidates could beat all of the potential Democratic presidential candidates at this point. There are months, and a Republican National Convention in Cleveland, before the November election.