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John Kasich Battles Donald Trump For Michigan's White Working Class Voters


The presidential primary season is far from over. Four states vote tomorrow, including Republican contests in Idaho and Hawaii. Both parties vote in Mississippi, and the biggest prize for Republicans and Democrats tomorrow is in Michigan, so that's where we're going to go to now. We'll start with a look at the Republican race with NPR's Don Gonyea. He's in Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., where Ohio Gov. John Kasich just wrapped up an event. Hi there, Don.


MCEVERS: All right, so let's start with Kasich. He's the popular governor of the neighboring state. He's not picking up so much traction in recent polls. Is he trying to emulate the front runner Donald Trump like other candidates have done, or is he sticking to his own message?

GONYEA: He is not. Others have gone toe-to-toe with Trump, trading insults and trading personal attacks and all that. Not Kasich. He couldn't be less like Trump in the way he's campaigning. And let's be clear, Kasich's reputation - he is hardly the prince of sweetness and light, you know? He can be brusque, he'll snap at reporters, but while campaigning he focuses on his record, his accomplishments as governor. No personal attacks, no insults. He'll go after an opponent's record, but in a way that he says is befitting the office that they're seeking.

MCEVERS: All right, so we're talking about, though, distinguishing oneself from Donald Trump. Ted Cruz scheduled a last-minute return to Michigan. He's gotten some momentum coming out of the weekend, where he won a couple of contests. Is he finding a receptive audience in Michigan?

GONYEA: He's popular. Christian conservatives like him, evangelicals like him, the tea party likes him, and there's a lot of those here. He argues that it's already a two-person race, that he's the conservative base's best alternative to Trump. He is a somewhat distant second in polls here to Trump. And Kasich is rising a little bit, getting close to Cruz. But again, Cruz hasn't been here. No events here since Super Tuesday except for the one that he'll have tonight in Grand Rapids.

MCEVERS: It seems like one of the reasons that Trump does have the support is he's getting it white working-class voters. What are these other candidates hoping to pull off then?

GONYEA: Well, Cruz hopes that the damage from all of the attacks Trump has been taking will finally start to show tomorrow. And, you know, there's talk that floats around about - it's going to have to be a contested convention for anybody other than Trump to win. Cruz folks dismiss that. They think they'll be ahead in delegates, and they think that's, like, a trick to steal the nomination from Ted Cruz. John Kasich, however, told reporters today that it looks like - he thinks that's where this is headed, to a contested convention. He sees nothing wrong with it. He says if you don't get the needed delegates, the 1,237, in advance, it's not like you have a claim on it. Give a listen.


JOHN KASICH: When it comes to a convention it's like in order to be the nominee, you have to have a certain number of votes. Not like a plurality. You've got to have a certain number. It's like - you know, it's like anything else in life. There's certain rules. I mean, you go take a driving test - if you don't pass the driving test, you don't get your license. It's not like, you know, well, that's good enough for government. So if - you've got to win.

GONYEA: We should add here that the only hope for Kasich and for Marco Rubio is that, you know, Kasich wins Ohio, Rubio wins Florida, Kasich does well in Michigan, and that they have indeed denied Donald Trump the necessary delegates.

MCEVERS: All right, well, we should say that Trump is still very strong there in Michigan. Why is that so?

GONYEA: It's a big state, an open primary, big media markets, lots of working-class voters who are frustrated and worried about the economy. And they are very, very angry at Washington, and Donald Trump is the guy who's speaking to them.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Don Gonyea. Thanks so much.

GONYEA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.