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Why the Rubio campaign urges Ohio to vote for Kasich. What?

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Alan Diaz/AP

(Read caption) Republican presidential candidates Marco Rubio (left), Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich (right) stand together before the start of the Republican presidential debate at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla., Thursday.

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Here’s how desperate Marco Rubio has become: His campaign is asking supporters to vote for John Kasich in Ohio on Tuesday.

That’s right. One GOP candidate is trying to win the presidential nomination by urging his own voters to desert him and back another guy, all in hopes of a triple bank shot landing a three-pointer in the bottom of the ninth.

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Or something like that.

This is the background: During a Friday interview on CNN, Senator Rubio’s communications director Alex Conant said that any Republican voter in Ohio who wants to beat Donald Trump should strategically vote for home state Governor Kasich.

When asked specifically if that meant he was urging a fancy strategic vote meant to block Mr. Trump and keep Rubio’s hopes alive, Mr. Conant said, “Yeah, my answer is John Kasich is the one candidate in Ohio that can beat Donald Trump.”

The opposite is true in Florida, Conant suggested. His implication was that Rubio and Kasich supporters should vote Rubio in the Sunshine State, since the Florida senator is the one with the best chance to topple Trump there.

The point of this would be to force a contested convention (or a contested post-primary pre-convention period when things get sorted out). Trump, denied the delegate-rich prizes of Ohio and Florida, would fall short of an absolute majority and thus have to fight for the nomination on the floor of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July. Rubio would remain in the game as well, and would possibly have an advantage in such a scenario, given that the anti-Trump GOP establishment might be able to skew the rules in his favor.

Hey, don’t blame Rubio, he’s just picking up on a suggestion made by Mitt Romney in his anyone-but-Trump speech earlier this month. Right?

Will this work? Theoretically, it could. But it probably won’t, and what it really shows is that the Rubio campaign is inches from being over.

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The Kasich campaign coldly highlighted a major flaw in this strategy with its response. In sum, Kasich is doing OK in Ohio anyway. Rubio is trailing in Florida, with or without crossover support.

“Kasich spox Rob Nichols on Rubio news: ‘We were going to win in OH without his help, just as he’s going to lose in FL w/o ours,’ ” tweeted AP political reporter Kathleen Ronayne on Friday. 

Kasich actually isn’t in the lead in Ohio polls, but he’s virtually tied. The RealClearPolitics rolling average of major surveys has him trailing Trump in the Buckeye State by 2.5 percentage points.

By contrast, Rubio is about 15 percentage points behind in Florida. Perhaps he’s gained momentum in recent days. But his spokesman’s playing the collusion card would suggest he hasn’t.

If Rubio loses Florida, it’s over for him. Period, full stop.

Plus, would the big players of the Republican Party really deny their party’s top vote-getter the nomination if he doesn’t quite reach a majority? And hand it to somebody who that top vote-getter (OK, Trump) beat?

Stranger things have happened in US politics, but for the most part, they haven’t ended well.

"While it’s comforting for many Republicans – and fun for many analysts to envision a surprise twist ending to the nomination process in Cleveland this July, such an outcome remains somewhat improbable from today’s vantage point,” writes Boston College political scientist David A. Hopkins Friday at his Honest Graft blog.

And only one person has a clear path to winning the GOP nomination outright in the primaries.


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