BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Ohio Republican John Kasich won the winner-take-all primary in his home state on Tuesday, propelling his perpetually lagging presidential campaign to become one of the GOP’s top three White House contenders.
The two-term governor told supporters his job is to represent all Americans without stooping to some of the vitriol that has marked the Republican primary dominated by billionaire businessman Donald Trump thus far.
“I will not take the low road to the highest office in the land,” he said.
Despite concern Democrat Hillary Clinton might have been affected by Democratic voters defecting to support Kasich’s effort against Trump, the former secretary of state defeated rival Bernie Sanders in the state despite the Vermont senator’s spirited last-minute campaign push.
With close to 60 percent of the votes counted, Kasich had nearly 45 percent of the Republican vote compared to 37 percent for Trump and 14 percent for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. All 66 of Ohio’s delegates go to the winner. Incomplete totals had Clinton winning 57 percent of the Democratic vote to Sanders’ 43 percent.
In the Fayette County Republican primary, Kasich received approximately 47 percent of the vote compared to Trump’s 37 percent, according to unofficial totals. In the Democratic primary, Clinton had approximately 58 percent of the vote compared to 41 percent for Sanders.
For Kasich, Tuesday’s victory marked his first state win of the campaign as well as a crucial signal of his durability into the next phase of the contest. His future position was bolstered after Florida Sen. Marco Rubio suspended his campaign after losing his home state to Trump on Tuesday.
Kasich pledged to take his campaign all the way to Cleveland — the site of the GOP national convention in July — and to be back in Ohio this fall to defeat Clinton.
“The campaign goes on,” Kasich told a crowd at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea.
Kasich’s speech was interrupted by a protester wearing clothes with Trump’s campaign logo — “Make America Great Again.” To that, Kasich joked that he appreciates a good, “peaceful protest every once in a while” since he went to college in the 1970s.
Ohio Republican Chairman Matt Borges said Kasich now can take his positive economic record to the rest of the country.
“Ohio is always the center of the political universe,” Borges said in a statement. “Tonight, the Buckeye State sent a message to the rest of the country that John Kasich is the best chance our party has to defeat Hillary Clinton in November.”
Preliminary exits poll results showed Kasich got a late surge in his home state, with those making their choice in the last few days backing Kasich by almost 2-to-1 over Trump.
He built his victory with women and moderate voters after splitting the vote with Trump among conservatives and men. Kasich also did well with young voters and retirees.
Clinton’s support from women, minorities and older voters negated Sanders’ strong showing among voters under 45, according to exit polls conducted by Edison Research for The Associated Press and television networks.