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The Impact Of Trump's Win On Portman And Kasich

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Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee for president. Anyone with an elementary grasp of mathematics has known that for some time now.

The once-gargantuan field of GOP presidential candidates dwindled in recent weeks to three – Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich. And, after Trump's thumping of Cruz Tuesday in Indiana, it was finally down to one, with first Cruz and then Kasich falling on their swords and crying "uncle."

Now, the tricky bit begins for Trump – probably the most unlikely of nominees in the modern era of presidential politics. The tricky bit is running a campaign – almost certainly against Democrat Hillary Clinton – that can somehow get him to the 270 Electoral College votes he needs to become the 45th President of the United States.

There is plenty of polling out there that says he can't do it. There is an Electoral College map that favors Democrats – any Democrat.

But the first rule of politics is to never say never. Anything can happen in the six months between now and the November 8th election.

It's like the late Joe Nuxhall, the beloved "Ol' Lefthander" of the Cincinnati Reds, used to say when he was in the radio booth and a weak-hitting pitcher came to the plate to bat. If you swing a bat, you're dangerous, Nuxy used to say. And, sometimes, that pitcher would slam an RBI double off the outfield wall. 

Same goes for being a major party nominee for president. If you've got the nomination, you're dangerous.

But here's a little dose of historical reality that Trump and his campaign advisers are going to have to deal with:

No Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio's electoral votes. Nary a one, going all the way back to the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln.

Which brings us to the top two Republican elected officials in Ohio, both of whom are going to find themselves smack in the middle of a Clinton-Trump fight in Ohio. 

One is Kasich, who made a mad dash for the nomination, running like a man whose hair was on fire, but who won only one state primary - the one where he is governor.

And the other is Ohio's junior senator, Rob Portman of Terrace Park, who is locked in a highly competitive race for re-election in which he appears to be about dead-even with the Democratic candidate, former governor Ted Strickland.

Let's take Kasich first.

As soon as Kasich returned to Columbus late Wednesday afternoon to say he was suspending his campaign for president, the drumbeat started – Kasich for vice president.

Kasich has said over and over and over again that he has no interest in being anybody's vice president, but such proclamations have never stopped The Great Speculation Machineof American politics.

Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who was an adviser to an anti-Trump Super PAC, said on MSNBC Wednesday that Kasich, by taking himself out of the presidential race, "has probably risen on the list of potential running mates."

Ohio is a state that "John Kasich can deliver."

Trump was sending mixed messages after Kasich's withdrawal.

On CNN Wednesday, Trump told Wolf Blitzer that he thinks Kasich "will be very helpful with Ohio, even as governor"

When Blitzer pointed out that Kasich has said he has no interest in being vice president, Trump plowed forward.

"Well, that could be; I've heard him say that,'' Trump said. "I would be interested in vetting John. I like John."

Then, Trump went on CNBC's Squawk Box and said Kasich was unlikely to be his choice for a running mate.

"I'm not sure John even wants it,'' Trump said.

David Pepper, the Ohio Democratic Party chairman, told WVXU, he doesn't believe having Kasich on the ticket would change the dynamics of the race for Ohio's 18 electoral votes.

"Whoever his running mate is, this ticket is going to be about Donald Trump,'' Pepper said. "You could put John Kasich on and they would still lose Ohio."

Kasich was highly critical of Trump's behavior during the primary contests. In March, after violent confrontations broke out at a Trump rally in Chicago that the candidate was forced to cancel, Kasich showed up the next morning in Sharonville and put the blame squarely on Trump's shoulders.

"Donald Trump has created a toxic environment,'' Kasich said in a press conference before a speech to a Hamilton County GOP pancake breakfast crowd. "There is no place for a national leader to prey upon the fears of people."

Nonetheless, the Trump campaign will look to Kasich and the Ohio Republican Party machine that he controls to deliver Ohio.

And it leaves Kasich in an uncomfortable position.

A Trump loss this fall could rebound in Kasich's favor.

He can't run for re-election as governor in 2018, but, if Trump were to go down in the presidential race,Kasichmight be in a position to run once again for the presidency in 2020. He did nothing in this race to hurt his reputation among party leaders nationally.

Portman has the more immediate problem. He has to get re-elected. His race could be critical to the GOP's chances of retaining control of the U.S. Senate this fall.

Strickland, the Ohio Democratic Party and its allies have been figuratively beating Portman about the head and shoulders for some time now about whether or not he would support Trump.

Then, last week, CNN did a story saying Portman was among a long list of potential running mates that Trump would consider.

That just allowed the Democrats to rub salt in the wound.

"It's no surprise that Donald Trump wants Sen. Portman to be his Vice President because on many issues Trump and Portman share the same toxic agenda,'' said Strickland campaign spokeswoman Liz Margolis.

"Both oppose a woman's right to make her own healthcare decisions, higher wages for working people, and have a record of pushing the agenda of the wealthy and the well-connected at Ohio's expense,'' Margolis said.

On the issue of whether or not Portman would support Trump, his campaign moved quickly after the Indiana primary to put that matter to rest.

"As Rob has been saying for the past year, he intends to support the Republican nominee,'' said Portman campaign manager Corry Bliss.

When the "Portman for Veep" business started, Bliss was quick to put out another statement.

"It's not happening, period,'' Bliss said. "Rob is not interested in anything but continuing to serve Ohio in the U.S. Senate. He will continue to do what he does every day – wake up determined to get results for Ohio families."

And, he went on to take a dig at the opposition.

"It' simple – Ted Strickland is the worst Senate candidate in America and has enough baggage to sink the Titanic. We are going to win this race," Bliss said.

Pepper said whether or not Trump has any chance at all in Ohio is "how Ohio Republicans respond to him."

"I don't know what the Republicans who say 'never Trump' will do,'' Pepper said. "Some may end up voting for Hillary; some may vote only on the down-ticket race; some may just stay home.

Pepper warns his fellow Ohio Democrats that they should not get comfy and cozy and assume a big win, just because of Trump's high unfavorable rating among voters - particularly women voters. 

"Democrats shouldn't be celebrating or laughing their heads off,'' Pepper said. "We can't take anything for granted. This is going to be a battle. It's one we can win, but we have to work for it. We can't go to sleep."

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