YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- Bullish on his chances in the winner-take-all primary here, Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) told reporters Monday that he could start winning states after March 15, and potentially build a delegate lead before the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
"You will see me pick up steam and have momentum," Kasich said. "I may go to the convention with more delegates than any of ‘em, but probably not enough to win."
Asked if Mitt Romney was endorsing him as he stumps beside Kasich at two events Monday, Kasich seemed to say yes, but his campaign later said he was answering a different question.
Kasich currently trails badly in the delegate hunt. According to the Washington Post's delegate-tracker, Kasich has won just 63, putting him 1,174 delegates short of the number he'd need to win a first-ballot nomination. But since March 1, Kasich, like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), has described the Republican primary as a push toward Cleveland, where the nomination will be contested -- not as a situation where anyone could defeat Donald Trump outright.
"March Madness, home court advantage," Kasich said, describing the primary calendar after March 15. "It starts to work for us. We will do well in places like Pennsylvania, where we’ll be on the ballot. We will be able to do well in places like Maryland and Connecticut and New Jersey and New York. And then we’re going to hitch up a covered wagon and head west."
Kasich is still locked in a legal battle to secure his Pennsylvania ballot slot, where a Rubio supporter turned in a post-deadline challenge to the validity of Kasich's signatures. There is a growing expectation, however, that Rubio's path to the nomination will end with a Florida defeat. Romney's campaign stops on Monday -- no such stops are planned for Rubio -- are being read as a soft endorsement of that theory.
"Well, look, I mean, he's going to come in and be positive," Kasich said. "He’s going to talk about me. I don't expect he's going to come in here and be trashing anybody. We don’t want that. Although I will say that this toxic environment is really terrible, and you know, I’m glad Arnold told me in 2010 to love the beatings, 'cause every time I have an election it seems like you go through the beatings."
Asked if he was becoming the "establishment" candidate as Rubio cratered, Kasich demurred. "I’ve never been the establishment’s first, last, or whatever hope," he said, adding that Romney was merely in town to amplify a positive message.
"He was the standard-bearer of our party four years ago," said Kasich. "He'll campaign in an upbeat, positive way. And who knows? If we have enough time, maybe I'll even take him to my house and show him, you know, show him where I live. 'Cause the rally tonight in Westerville, which I hope you’re all coming to, is just a stone’s throw from where my house is. But none of you in the press come and egg my house tonight, please."