The Ohio and Florida primaries are tomorrow, but the prospects of the respective “favorite sons” in these states couldn’t be more different. According to the most recent NBC and CBS News polls, Kasich is either leading by several points or tied with Trump for the lead in Ohio, while Rubio trails Trump by more than twenty points in Florida and in the CBS poll even falls behind Cruz into third place at 21%.
Rubio has won three contests so far (if we include the D.C. caucus with its absurdly low turnout), and Kasich hasn’t won any. As we know, Rubio has been constantly touted as the favorite of party leaders and has until very recently received overwhelmingly positive coverage in the media. Kasich has been treated at best as an annoyance by the party, and has been all but ignored by the press. So how is it that the governor remains competitive and will probably win his home state while the senator’s support in Florida is so low?
One key difference is job performance. Kasich has strong approval ratings as governor and very high approval from his own party (80% of OH Republicans approve/17% disapprove) and Rubio has miserable overall ratings as senator with mediocre support from Republicans (47% of FL Republicans approve/46% disapprove). Kasich has governed his state for the better part of two terms and done something for his constituents, and Rubio has mostly skipped out on even showing up for work during his one term in office and hasn’t accomplished much for his constituents when he did bother to show up. Rubio is still generally well-liked by Republicans in his state, but that doesn’t mean that most of the primary voters think he’s been a good senator or that he would be a good president.
That brings us to another significant difference: Kasich is widely considered to be prepared to be president by Republicans in Ohio and Florida, and Rubio is much more likely to be seen as being unprepared in both places. Even in Florida, more Republican primary voters say Rubio isn’t prepared (45%) than say that he is (43%). His numbers in other states are even worse: 29%/50% in Ohio and 35%/46% in Illinois. Florida Republicans have much more confidence in Kasich’s readiness (62% saying he is prepared vs. 21% who say he isn’t) than in their own senator’s, and Ohio Republicans have even more (70% saying he’s prepared/20% saying he isn’t). In Florida, Ohio, and Illinois, Rubio comes in fourth on this question, and Kasich is in first or second. Put simply, almost half of Republican primary voters in Rubio’s state don’t think he’s ready to be president, and they are also evenly split over whether he has been a good senator. Primary voters in Ohio don’t have the same doubts about their governor. No wonder Kasich is poised to win his state while the overwhelming majority of Florida Republican primary voters favors other candidates instead of their first-term senator.