John Kasich is kinda boring. That's the shortest answer to the question of why he doesn't attract more media coverage.
As I wrote this on Thursday, the Republican presidential long shot was actually having a pretty big day in the news, by his standards. But the things that attracted Thursday's flurry of attention are exactly the kinds of things he doesn't do very often.
1. He did something silly that drew mockery — eating pizza with a fork. Come on, man!
what is this election even about anymore pic.twitter.com/8B5Tu5MCiu
— Seth Fiegerman (@sfiegerman) March 31, 2016
2. He invoked a comedian to criticize Donald Trump, saying on ABC News that the Republican front-runner is lucky Jon Stewart isn't hosting "The Daily Show" anymore.
3. He managed to distract Ted Cruz from his feud with Trump long enough for the senator to attack Kasich, too.
Cruz rhetoric on Kasich growing sharper each day: "Part of the reason he does well against Hillary is that no one knows anything about him.”
— Teddy Schleifer (@teddyschleifer) March 31, 2016
The Texas Republican also has been pushing the argument all week that Kasich wouldn't even be eligible for the GOP nomination at a contested convention because of a rule created for the last convention. (Cruz seems to be ignoring the possibility that the rule won't be refined this year, as it was in 2012.)
4. A pro-Kasich super PAC released a creep-tastic new ad that pillories "Lyin' Ted" with a computer-generated sprouting nose.
The common denominator in each of these storylines is a show-biz quality — conflict, buffoonery, weirdness — that Kasich's campaign generally lacks.
The Ohio governor's relative dullness wouldn't matter so much if he were winning, of course, and it's easy for journalists to rationalize overlooking him because of his low delegate count. In fact, it is mathematically impossible for Kasich to secure the nomination before the convention in July.
But the likelihood that Cruz will head to Cleveland with the requisite 1,237 delegates isn't much higher; he would need to collect 85 percent of the remaining delegates. (Yes, math nerds, I am aware that any odds better than Kasich's zero are infinitely higher by the statistical definition of the word. The point is that Kasich and Cruz are in somewhat similar positions — likely needing an open convention to win the nomination.)
Admittedly Cruz, running second, has the edge over Kasich in that scenario. Passing over the top two finishers from the primary season would be harder to explain to voters than simply thwarting Trump. Yet it's impossible to ignore another — arguably wider — gap between the two: Cruz's campaign is full of drama, largely because of the constantly raging war between him and Trump, while Kasich's is mellow. Unsurprisingly, Cruz gets a lot more coverage.
How much more? Researchers at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy tallied homepage mentions for every presidential candidate on the websites of 14 leading news outlets (including The Washington Post) over seven weekdays between March 14-23. In their sample, Cruz got 70 percent more mentions than Kasich.
This isn't a perfectly comprehensive way to measure coverage, of course. But 70 percent more exposure for Cruz than Kasich feels pretty accurate; it also feels like too much of an imbalance, given the candidates' relative chances of earning the GOP nomination.
Kasich deserves plenty of blame for his low profile. Perhaps he should have tried the pizza-fork thing sooner.
Seriously, though, finding the media spotlight is a legitimate campaign skill that any successful politician must hone. You can't just be the serious, sensible candidate and expect the cameras and microphones to come to you.
But the news media should also pay a wee bit more attention to Kasich, who has outlasted flashier rivals and still has a chance to win, albeit a slim one.