A new Fox News poll of Ohio primary voters shows Ohio Governor John Kasich leading Donald Trump by five points, less than a week before the state’s winner-take-all primary.
Kasich has 34 percent support from Ohio Republicans, while Trump is in second with 29 percent.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is third with 19 percent. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is a distant fourth, with just seven percent support.
The winner of Ohio secures all of the state’s 66 delegates. After Florida, it is the biggest single prize on the March 15th Big Tuesday contests.
The poll, conducted Saturday through Tuesday with a 3.5 percent margin of error, is the first to show Kasich with a lead since August.
While it is the only recent poll to show Kasich leading in Ohio, it is in-line with current polling in the race. The RealClearPolitics average of polls currently shows Trump with a very slim 2.5 point edge in the Buckeye State.
Given Trump’s tendency to generally underperform his polling, and the built-in advantages that Kasich has as the state’s governor, a tight race for Ohio’s delegates is to be expected.
Kasich’s standing in the Ohio contest is helped considerably by the fact that 79 percent of Republicans in the state approve of his job performance. This is allowing him to cut into voter groups that normally support Trump by large numbers.
Kasich leads Trump among women by 10 points, but he also edges him among men by one point. Among voters with college degrees, Kasich bests Trump by 15 points but only loses non-college voters by four points. In other states, Trump has won this group decisively.
Kasich also edges Trump among voters earning less than $50k a year, another group Trump has dominated this election. Kasich also edges Trump and Cruz among evangelicals, as well as among Catholics, which comprise a large voting-block in Ohio.
Kasich’s popularity among Ohio Republicans is also blunting another of Trump’s key strengths. A solid majority of Ohio Republicans, 60 percent, say they feel betrayed by Republican leaders. Trump has generally been able to tap into this anger to fuel his campaign.
Ohio voters, however, do not see Kasich in that same light. Kasich won a very competitive race against a sitting incumbent to earn the Governor’s office six years ago. In 2014, he won a landslide reelection in the critical swing state. His relatively successful tenure as Governor has innoculated him from some of the anger directed at Republicans in Washington.
As a winner-take-all state, the Ohio race will hinge on voter turnout. Ohio has an open primary, allowing independents and even Democrats to cross over and vote in the Republican contest.
The Democrat primary, however, is increasingly likely to be competitive after Hillary Clinton’s loss in Michigan. The closeness of that contest may keep some Democrats or Democrat-leaning Indepedents from voting in the Republican race.
Kasich has successfully run two statewide campaigns in Ohio within the last six years. It would be a fool’s errand to bet against him in a race where the polling is close. With the field of candidates dwindling, Kasich likely will be able to hold onto his support on election day.
The vote in Ohio is fairly set, according to the Fox poll, with 70 percent of Republicans saying they are certain about which candidate they will support. The numbers for Trump, Kasich, and Cruz supporters are higher than this overall average.
Winning Ohio will be less about persuading undecided voters, and much more about getting one’s voters out to the polls. Kasich looks well positioned to do this.