Concord, N.H. - Ohio Gov. John Kasich toiled at more than 100 town hall meetings in New Hampshire, sticking to an above-the-fray message as the mudslinging and the name-calling from his chief rivals reached epic peaks.
And on Tuesday, as he surveyed a rowdy crowd in a Concord hotel ballroom, he relished in his surge from the middle of the crowded field to a second-place finish as a vindication of his strategy.
“We never went negative because we have more to sell than spending our time being critical,” he said. “Maybe, just maybe, we are turning the page on a dark part of American politics. Tonight the light overcame the darkness of negative campaigning.”
It came at the expense of other mainstream rivals all jockeying for the same narrow space as the mainstream alternative to Donald Trump, who easily won Tuesday’s primary, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. And it didn’t hurt that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie relentlessly sniped at each other, leaving him an opening.
For Kasich, challenges await in the South. With Bush and Rubio vowing to fight on – Christie signaled he would take a break from the campaign after his sixth place finish – there is not as much room in the so-called establishment lane in the Feb. 20 GOP primary in South Carolina.
And he has little of the ground game in South Carolina and the rest of the South that he painstakingly built in New Hampshire over months of visits to the Granite State.
Tuesday, though, was a time for Kasich to savor the second-place finish. He said his experience crisscrossing New Hampshire encouraged him to spend more time listening to voters and to take stock in their concerns.
“There’s magic in the air with this campaign,” said Kasich. “We don’t see it as just another campaign. We see it as an opportunity for something bigger.”