COLUMBIA, S.C. — John Kasich is claiming a scalp in the Republican presidential race: that of Jeb Bush.
Kasich’s chief strategist, John Weaver, predicted Saturday morning that Bush’s campaign would end with the day’s South Carolina primary — and he credited the Ohio governor with helping drive the former Florida governor and political scion from the race.
“For all practical purposes, there’s no path forward for Governor Bush,” Weaver said in a strategy briefing with reporters. “There’s no state post-South Carolina where he’s not either last or close to last.”
It’s not as if Kasich is running away with the nomination. South Carolina polls show him running neck-and-neck with Bush for fourth place, far behind front-runner Donald Trump. In national polls, Kasich trails Trump as well as Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.).
Weaver’s argument to reporters is that there will be four tickets out of South Carolina into the many states holding March contests — and that Kasich will edge Bush for the fourth one. Buoyed by his strong second-place finish in New Hampshire, Weaver said, Kasich is hiring more staff, opening more offices and targeting March states such as Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Vermont and Virginia.
Asked how to justify what is expected to be a fourth- or fifth-place finish in South Carolina, Weaver said, referring to Bush, “We’ve already won there, because how well we do is going to help drive somebody else out of the race.”
“Our expectation is that, come early next week, after so many governors and former governors have run, that John Kasich will be the last one standing,” he added.
The Bush campaign fired back, saying Bush expects to beat Kasich in South Carolina and is scheduled to campaign next in Nevada, where Kasich is planning no events before next Tuesday’s caucuses.
“John Kasich is running a zombie campaign that exists only in three states in the hopes that he can gain some cache in the Vice Presidential sweepstakes,” Bush spokesman Tim Miller said in a statement. “They do not even pretend to have a plan to earn the delegates needed to win the nomination. This is just a classless attempt to impact the vote in a state [South Carolina] that John Kasich cut and run from a few days ago.”