Ohio is a must-win state for any GOP candidate, but presumptive nominee Donald Trump hasn’t built much of a political operation here and the state’s top Republican, Gov. John Kasich, has yet to endorse the man who ended his presidential dreams.
Even as other key Republicans in the state, such as Sen. Rob Portman, have announced their backing of Trump, Kasich says he is taking a wait and see attitude.
“I’m for uniting (the party) and I have to see him move to uniting,” Kasich told CNN’s Anderson Cooper last week. “If he doesn’t, I’m undecided here at this point. So we’ll see what happens.”
Trump and the Ohio Republican Party also have yet to work out details for how they will coordinate campaign efforts in the state.
Ohio GOP spokesman Brittany Warner said Trump’s political team reached out to state Chairman Matt Borges last week. “They agreed they would sit down soon to begin discussing plans moving forward so Republicans carry Ohio in November,” Warner said.
Isaac Baker, a Washington, D.C.-based Democratic political consultant, said the lack of communication between Trump and the party, at least to this point, is “hard to fathom.”
“The thing about organizing among field staff and political staff is these are relationships that need to build up over a period of time,” Baker said. “It’s very difficult to put together an effective field operation on the fly at the last minute.”
Kasich’s loyal campaign operatives aren’t rushing to work for the Trump campaign either.
Former Ohio GOP and Kasich campaign spokesman Chris Schrimpf said unless Trump radically changes his message, “I don’t see a whole lot of Kasich people wanting to go work for Donald Trump. He would be wise to reach out to Kasich people. They won Ohio for the governor twice (in 2010 and 2014) and they beat Donald Trump in Ohio. As a Republican, you can’t win the White House without Ohio.”
Trump campaign staff did not return messages seeking comment.
Trump, a billionaire real estate tycoon who has never held elective office, found success in the GOP primaries with a minimal staff, no national fundraising operation and a cunning ability to garner free media attention.
But he has work to do for the general election, political analysts say.
“For Trump to win (Ohio) he has to make some improvements in the suburban areas around the major populations hubs,” said Kevin Madden, a Washington, D.C., based Republican political consultant. “If you look back to the March primary, Trump ran strong in the eastern counties along the Mahoning Valley, but struggled in the collar counties of Columbus, Toledo and Cleveland. That 30-mile radius around those areas, including Cincinnati, is the whole ballgame in Ohio.”
John Weaver, who served as the Kasich campaign’s chief political strategist, said Trump has high negatives with younger voters and working women, but his advantage is that Americans feel anxious about economic security and the future and he is seen as the challenger while Democrat Hillary Clinton represents the incumbent party.
Chris Wyant, the Clinton campaign Ohio director, said the Democratic frontrunner is building a strong campaign organization in Ohio.
“With just six months until Election Day, we are working urgently to strengthen our organization and discuss with voters the clear choice between Clinton’s commitment to break down economic barriers and raise incomes and Donald Trump’s dangerous, divisive candidacy that would harm working families and put national security at risk,” Wyant said in a statement.
Priorities USA, a pro-Clinton super PAC, unleashed $6 million in advertising in key battleground states, including $1.9 million in Ohio, said spokesman Justin Barasky. But he predicted the Clinton side will be outspent in the race by the Republicans, Trump and the pro-Trump PACs.
Neither Clinton nor Trump could win a popularity contest. A new poll from NBC/Wall Street Journal shows 54 percent of registered voters hold a negative view of Clinton while 58 percent have a negative opinion of Trump — making them the least liked likely presidential nominees in American history.
Schrimpf said many voters won’t like either choice on the ballot. “But I’d say Hillary Clinton is better organized at this point,” he said.