(Bloomberg) — In the chaos that is the New Hampshire Republican primary, one candidate is steering clear of the bumper-car madness and quietly creeping ahead of his rivals.
John Kasich places second in New Hampshire in five out of six recent polls, behind longstanding front-runner Donald Trump. In three of them he’s tied for second—with three different candidates: Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. His rise over the past few weeks is palpable and reflected in the RealClearPolitics average of Granite State polls, which confirms his second-place standing there.
“I think Kasich could be the guy,” said John Feehery, a Republican lobbyist and former top spokesman for House Republican leadership. “If he comes in second in New Hampshire he could be the big comeback story. He might be the establishment guy.”
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The other three establishment-friendly Republicans—Rubio, Bush and Chris Christie—are all competitive for second place in the Granite State but have formed a circular firing squad. Rubio and his super-PAC are simultaneous slinging arrows at Christie (for being too liberal) and Cruz (for being an inconsistent conservative), while fending off a wave of attacks from Bush (for changing his position on “amnesty”) and Christine (for being too young and unprepared).
“If you avoid the circular firing squad, you’re the only one left standing,” Feehery said. “I think there’s a bunch of different gun battles going on, and right now no one’s shooting at Kasich because they thought he was already dead.”
Staying off attack mode has been a conscious decision, Kasich’s top strategist said.
“When the other candidates are offering criticisms and darkness and gloom—no optimism about the future, no real solutions to the problems that real people care about—he’s doing the exact opposite, and he’s connecting with voters,” John Weaver, Kasich’s chief strategist, told Bloomberg Politics. “In a multi-field race if you’re playing whack-a-mole and if Harry hits Sam, how do we know that Sam’s votes are going to go to Harry and not Dick? So, we don’t get involved in that.”
Weaver also fired a warning shot at the Republican field.
“Now, if somebody attacks us, we’re going to rain hell on their head. But as far as they leave us alone, we’re going to move forward,” he said.
The cantankerous Ohio governor, well-liked by moderate Republicans but detested by the ascendant conservative base, stuck to his positive and pragmatic message at a town hall Wednesday evening in Gilford, New Hampshire.
“You know, they say everybody’s angry. I don’t think everybody’s angry. We’re not angry people,” he told the crowd. “We just want some solutions and we want to believe the people telling us we’re gonna get solutions that they’re for real.”