CHARLESTON, S.C. — John Kasich’s presidential campaign on Wednesday launched what it called “Act 2,” and the challenges are daunting. It needs a quick, massive financial infusion, it has create to a political network in many states almost from scratch and it has to wait a month before a primary is held in its next big target of Michigan.
The Ohio governor was at 2 percent in national polls before Tuesday’s vote and has the lowest name recognition of the major candidates. But his message of pragmatic and compassionate conservatism appealed to enough New Hampshire voters to land him in second place Tuesday, behind Donald Trump.
Now, Kasich’s tight band of operatives must expand from the political equivalent of a local business to a national company almost overnight.
His aides began dialing for more campaign dollars as soon as Kasich’s win was projected. “Now, you know, we’ve got to raise more money,” Kasich told reporters who flew with him to South Carolina, which hosts a debate Saturday and holds the next primary, on Feb. 20.
Next, the campaign has to figure out where best to spend it.
Kasich faces a tough schedule for the next several weeks. His campaign had not aired ads in South Carolina, where Trump has led polls for months. Then, on March 1, when the “SEC primary” focuses on Southern states where Kasich may be weakest, he hopes to do well in Massachusetts and Vermont.
Tom Rath, who advised Kasich in New Hampshire and will remain part of the national team, said in an interview in his Concord, N.H., office Wednesday that Kasich can succeed by focusing on a careful allocation of resources in difficult states during the next month and then breaking out in Michigan on March 8 and in states such as Ohio and Illinois on March 15.
The Ohio and Illinois primaries are among those later in the campaign season in which the winner gets all of the delegates, instead of the proportional allocation in many earlier states.
“I believe we will be behind in the delegate count as of March 15,” Rath said. “But on March 15, as the calendar turns to winner-take-all, we can make up the deficit very quickly.”
To make that seemingly audacious goal a reality, the campaign needs much else to go precisely right. Some competitors need to drop out — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina ended their campaigns Wednesday — and enough need to remain in the race to form elimination rounds.
While the other campaigns have signaled that they intend to attack Kasich much more forcefully than they did in New Hampshire, Kasich’s aides hope they do more damage to themselves than their candidate, whose mantra is that he has his “own lane” to the nomination that includes courting centrists.
Behind it all is ramped-up fundraising. Donors who had been on the fence were promptly called, and donors to other candidates were approached about Kasich.
At the same time, a pro-Kasich super PAC, New Day for America, was also raising cash. The group showed it was far more willing than Kasich to go on the attack, airing an ad against Trump in New Hampshire. A spokesman for the group did not respond to a request for comment.
Kasich strategist John Weaver said the campaign raised about $500,000 online between Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning but declined to share a target goal.
“We have a rationale now for our candidacy,” Weaver said.
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush’s campaign, meanwhile, distributed a memo to supporters arguing that Kasich has “little to no chance” in South Carolina “and does not have a national organization that can compete.”
Weaver said the campaign doesn’t need to organize on the ground the same way it did in New Hampshire.
“You want a ground game,” he said, “but you don’t have it as intensely because much of it is about messaging and motivation.” He added: “We need coalescing in the race. That’s a good thing as long as we’re not one of them.”
To be sure, the odds were long against Kasich holding on for a month without winning a primary and then breaking through the pack, particularly with Trump’s apparent strength. But several co-chairmen of Kasich’s state campaign committees said the New Hampshire victory at least gives them the foundation on which to try to take on Trump and the others.
“We’ll see a lot more enthusiasm,” said Massachusetts state representative Paul K. Frost, who said he carried Kasich campaign placards from New Hampshire to his state as soon as the results were in. “Now people are talking about him, you are hearing about him on major news networks. For many people, they are being introduced to him for the first time, and he will have an opportunity to really discuss his brand of politics.”
Tom Leonard, speaker pro tempore of Michigan’s House of Representative, said Kasich has set himself up for victory in his state, which shares a border with Ohio. Leonard said that he thought Kasich’s dozen visits are more than any other candidate’s and that Kasich will continue to focus on Michigan, echoing the retail strategy that was crucial in New Hampshire.
Kasich acknowledged Wednesday to reporters that his campaign has a “long haul” ahead as he approaches less-friendly primary contests, but he remained optimistic.
“All the questions, all the doubts and everything, I’ve been hearing this for so long, I guess for about 30 years,” Kasich said. “So I’m sort of used to it. We’ll just keep doing what we do.”
Kranish reported from Concord, N.H. Ed O’Keefe in Concord contributed to this report.