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John Kasich Looks to Expand Focus Beyond New Hampshire

Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s campaign for president is ahead of schedule and looking to expand its focus beyond New Hampshire.

That was his team’s message for the campaign’s Washington steering committee, which met last Friday for a closed-door briefing at the Capitol Hill Club in D.C.

With a solid second-place position in New Hampshire, the campaign is looking next to key primary state Iowa, where Kasich is posting better-than-expected polling numbers.

“We’ve known he’s moved up rapidly in New Hampshire for some time,” said Bob Rusbuldt, a well-connected insurance lobbyist and chairman of Kasich’s Washington steering committee. But a Quinnipiac poll out last Thursday showing Kasich tied with Carly Fiorina and Sen. Marco Rubio for fifth place in Iowa “was, frankly, quite impressive in a very short period of time."

The campaign is hiring two new paid Iowa staffers and planning for the candidate to visit the state more frequently.

“You’re gonna see the governor spend a little more time there, and the campaign putting some additional resources there,” Rusbuldt said.

Iowa was not initially seen as a clear winner for Kasich, because of the fierce competition for the state’s Christian conservative base of voters. New Hampshire has long been seen as a more natural fit for Kasich, a more moderate 2016 Republican hopeful with executive and congressional experience.

Rusboldt and Kasich’s campaign advisers briefed the committee — made up of about 30 lobbyists, current and former members of Congress and other D.C. powerbrokers — on the candidate’s fundraising and support in the states. They held a second meeting for about 20 current members of Congress who wanted to learn more about Kasich.

During the first meeting, said James Walsh, a former New York representative and deputy majority whip in the House, “the sentiment was we’re doing better than we thought we’d be doing.” Walsh said the team was pleased with Kasich’s first debate performance, where “we thought he would be good but he was better than we thought.”

Former Sen. John E. Sununu briefed the committee on Kasich’s performance in New Hampshire, saying that the candidate is “ahead of where we thought he’d be” at this point in the cycle, according to Walsh.

That’s given him the room, another steering committee member said, to expand his focus.

“There was a feeling, early on in the campaign, by some people that he was going to concentrate on New Hampshire, but wouldn’t be able to build out any kind of support in the SEC primary states,” the member said. “But the fact is that we have done quite well” in many of those southern states.

To that effect, on Monday, the campaign announced its Georgia leadership team, including endorsements from the state Senate majority leader and a former chief of staff to Gov. Sonny Perdue. Kasich on Monday also became the first candidate to file for the Nevada caucuses — the fourth state to vote in the Republican presidential primary.

Kasich advisers say they believe the governor has a wide appeal that has drawn him attention from current and former elected officials all over the country, and they’ve been fielding calls from interested supporters in states ranging from Nebraska to Hawaii to Tennessee.

The campaign is now planning for the long haul, working under the assumption that Kasich will make it far beyond the early primary states. They’re focused on building more official campaign structures in the “SEC primary” states, the eight Southern states that go to the polls on March 1 and offer a sizeable delegate pot.

Committee members are now focusing on bringing other current and former elected officials onto the team, an effort that former Ohio Rep. Deborah Pryce is spearheading. Rusbuldt said Ohio Rep. Pat Tiberi, and former Michigan Rep. Pete Hoekstra, have been the most active in recruiting supporters onto the team up to this point.

And while they’re “slightly ahead of where we thought we would be money-wise,” Rusbuldt said, they’re planning a major fundraising swing through D.C. in early October. One fundraising event will take place in Virginia on Oct. 5, and two more -- one focused on young professionals that will cost only $25 to attend – will take place the next day in Washington D.C.

“That’s going to be pretty exciting,” Rusbuldt said. “The governor has always been enamored of young people. He’s young at heart himself.”