Rubio tells Ohio supporters to back Kasich

Credit: Chip Somodevilla

Credit: Chip Somodevilla

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio took the unusual step Friday of urging his supporters in Ohio to vote for Gov. John Kasich in Tuesday's Ohio Republican presidential primary in an effort to keep Donald Trump from winning the party's presidential nomination.

Although the Rubio and Kasich campaigns insisted they had not engaged in a coordinated effort to prevent Trump from winning both Florida and Ohio, Rubio's comments are consistent with a strategy developed by some Republicans who fear the party will suffer a devastating defeat in November if Trump is their presidential nominee.

Republicans such as Mitt Romney, the party's 2012 presidential nomination, want Rubio to carry his home state of Florida and Kasich to win Ohio. Because the two states have a combined total of 165 delegates to the national convention this summer in Cleveland, victories by Rubio and Kasich in their home states would deliver a stinging blow to Trump's hopes of a first-ballot nomination.

At a news conference in Florida, Rubio said that he has "never talked to John Kasich about this." He went on to say that Kasich "has a better chance of winning Ohio than I do. And if a voter concludes that voting for John Kasich gives us the best chance to stop Donald Trump there, I anticipate that's what they'll do."

"I can tell you that in Florida, I'm the only one who can beat Donald Trump," Rubio added. He said Florida Republicans voting for either Kasich or Texas Sen. Cruz are "in essence voting for Donald Trump."

Speaking at a town hall in Moraine, Kasich indicated that he would not return the favor to Rubio.

"If I've got supporters somewhere in the country and I'm on the ballot, I think they kinda oughta go for me," Kasich said. "What kind of deal would it be if I told my people 'don't vote for me'?"

In that spirit, he said, "Senator Rubio should immediately tell" the Super Political Action Committee supporting him "to stop attacking" Kasich in commercials aired in Florida and Illinois.

Trump currently has 459 delegates and needs 1,237 delegates to be nominated on the first ballot in Cleveland. By contrast, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has 360 delegates, Rubio has 152 and Kasich has just 54.

Polls show Kasich in a close fight in Ohio with Trump, while the New York billionaire appears to be leading Rubio in Florida, which has 99 delegates. Kasich has made clear if he loses his home state and its 66 delegates, he will drop out of the race.

The apparent détente between Rubio and Kasich is motivated more by self-interest then brotherly love. Both candidates see themselves as the strongest general election candidates in the November campaign against the likely Democratic nominee, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In addition, their rapprochement does not extend to Illinois, which also holds its presidential primary Tuesday. In that state, the super PACs supporting Rubio and Kasich have been aiming one televised salvo after another against each other.

Jessica Wehrman of the Washington Bureau and Randy Ludlow of the Columbus Dispatch contributed to this story.