John Kasich, whose presidential run has largely been based on the faith that voters would reward him for his optimistic message, is now relying on a campaign strategy that could leave voters out of the equation.
Even with his first primary win in his home state of Ohio on Tuesday, Kasich still needs an unattainable 106 percent of the remaining delegates to clinch the GOP nomination, according to the NBC News' delegate count. The Buckeye State governor is justifying his continuation in the race by touting a campaign strategy that would require delegates at the convention to choose him over either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz -- both of whom will likely have more votes, delegates and primary state victories than Kasich.
“No one is going to get enough delegates at the convention. Everyone is going to fall short,” Kasich said on TODAY on Wednesday.
“The delegates are going to have to figure out...who can run the country, who has the record and who can win?” he added.
It is a distinct possibility this year that no candidate reaches the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination outright, setting the stage for the first contested election for either party since 1952. And even though Trump is the frontrunner, he has received less than 40 percent of the votes cast so far in the GOP primary.
But opponents argue Kasich's strategy seems antithetical to his argument that voters, not the media, poll numbers or political insiders, will decide the next president.
Asked by NBC News’ Peter Alexander about polls showing Kasich and Trump running neck-and-neck in Ohio, the governor said, “we'll let the voters speak.” A petition on his website ahead of the Super Tuesday contests on March 1 blared “Let the voters decide!” and declared “political pundits and Washington insiders want to anoint another candidate.”
Now Kasich is arguing he is the one who should be anointed, citing polls that show he gives Republicans the best shot to win the general election.
Trump took a not so veiled shot at Kasich this week, saying “you’d have riots” if a candidate who earned just a couple hundred delegates was nominated over someone much closer to 1,237.
Cruz’s campaign has called on the Ohio governor to abandon the race, saying he only helps Trump. “Every day John Kasich stays in the race benefits Donald Trump," Cruz said on CNN on Wednesday.
“He's routinely moved the goalposts to suit whatever narrative his campaign decides is apt any particular day,” said a Republican strategist who has remained neutral during the primary battle. “Voters have rejected him everywhere but Ohio and the contested convention route is the only option left.”
While talking about his campaign strategy, Kasich has taken pains to erase the vision of party leaders privately huddling in smoke-filled rooms and emerging with nominee.
“For those that worry about a convention, it’ll be right in the open. I mean there's no closed rooms. There's nothing but total transparency,” Kasich told reporters after a campaign stop in Pennsylvania on Wednesday.
Another hurdle for Kasich would be a provision adopted by the Republican National Committee that requires a candidate to win at least eight primary states to be nominated -- known as Rule 40. That rule, however, can be changed.
The efforts of dark horse candidates attempting to upend a political convention and emerge the nominee have failed in modern times. But history has not been a good indicator of what to expect in this year’s already unpredictable election, said Allan Lichtman, a presidential historian at American University.
“It would be unprecedented in the modern ear, but if there was ever an election to break precedent, this would be it,” Lichtman said. “Precedents are made to be broken.”