James J. Allen crosses paths with a lot of politicians and, as head of one of the region’s largest industrial development agencies, sees firsthand the good, the bad and the ugly in politics.
He’s also a self-described moderate Republican who looked around at the field of presidential candidates this year and felt the need to get personally involved.
“I could never vote for Trump or Cruz,” said Allen, executive director of the Amherst IDA. “But I do like John Kasich.”
And Allen is not alone. He and about 25 others gathered at a VFW post in Cheektowaga earlier this week in an effort to help the Ohio governor’s presidential campaign in New York. But they also share the view that the GOP is in turmoil because of Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, and that their guy is the only one who can beat Hillary Clinton or Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“This a case of trying to force a brokered convention,” Allen said.
It’s no secret Trump is the heavy favorite to win his home state, but Kasich’s supporters are determined to cut into his victory by taking away selected delegates across the state.
The strategy is to cherry-pick delegates from targeted congressional districts in hopes of reducing Trump’s primary day bounty and, in the end, denying him a first-ballot election at the Republican National Convention.
To win those delegates, Kasich’s supporters will try to portray their candidate as the best bet to stop Trump in New York, just as Cruz was viewed as the best bet to stop Trump in Wisconsin.
“He was my first choice from the beginning," said Jeff Novak, a Buffalo lawyer who once worked for the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee.
Like Allen, Novak sees Kasich as the most credible Republican in the field and the one best equipped to beat Clinton or Sanders in November.
“You look at a guy and you can get a measure of him,” he said of Kasich. “I don’t think he’s the type to say something just to get a vote.”
When you talk to Kasich supporters and ask them, “Why him?” you tend to hear the same answer over and over again.
Experience. Temperament. Electability.
In the eyes of Kasich’s backers, there is only one candidate suited for the presidency and that’s the governor and former congressman with a reputation for getting things done.
They point to his 18 years in Congress and his lead role, as chairman of the House Budget Committee, in balancing budgets and creating huge surpluses during the 1990s.
“He would be my choice,” former Rep. Jack Quinn Jr. of Hamburg said of Kasich. “He’s a common-sense guy, and we need more of that, not less.”
Quinn, who is now president of Erie Community College, is not formally endorsing anyone, but he makes no attempt to hide his admiration of Kasich, a former House colleague.
“We’re both moderate Republicans, which was more in vogue then than it is now,” he said.
As governor of Ohio, Kasich inherited an $8 billion deficit that he eventually wiped away. He also oversaw an economic recovery that cut his state’s jobless rate to below the national average and created a record number of businesses in Ohio.
“He has experience, and I think we need to make sure we don’t elect a novice,” said Joe Lojacono of Amherst, one of the Republicans who turned out for the Kasich organizational meeting in Cheektowaga.
To hear Lojacono talk, Kasich is right on a lot issues, including trade, NATO and national security.
“We can trust him to keep the military strong,” he said.
While viewed as a moderate, especially when compared to Cruz, Kasich is not without conservative bona fides. He supports “traditional marriage” between a man and a woman, not same-sex marriages, and he’s pro-life except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is in danger.
On other hot-button issues, he parts way with Cruz and Trump. He’s willing, for example, to consider granting legal status to immigrants in the United States illegally if they register and pay a fine. He also supports the Common Core national educational standards that have proven so unpopular in New York and other states.
Kasich also broke ranks with his party when, as governor, he accepted funds for the expansion of Medicaid under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, even though he opposed the actual law.
There are Republicans who see Kasich’s reputation as an even-tempered moderate as a big plus, especially in November.
“This is the candidate who can beat Hillary Clinton,” said James P. Domagalski, former Erie County Republican party chairman.
While much of the local GOP hierarchy is backing Trump, Domagalski and a few other influential Republicans are backing Kasich and advocating publicly for a brokered convention.
“If he doesn’t get it on the first ballot, I don’t think he gets it,” County Legislator Kevin R. Hardwick, a Town of Tonawanda Republican and Kasich backer, said of a Trump nomination.
Unlike many states, New York is not a winner-take-all primary. The awarding of delegates is based instead on individual results from each of the state’s 27 congressional districts, and Kasich’s strategy is to target districts where Trump may be vulnerable.
Even though Trump leads in the latest poll with 56 percent, he could lose delegates to Kasich or Cruz if he falls below 50 percent in any congressional district.
“What it comes down to is 27 separate elections,” said Assemblyman Raymond W. Walter, an Amherst Republican and Kasich supporter. As of last week, Kasich had 143 delegates to Trump’s 743 and Cruz’s 517. Trump needs 1,237 delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot and New York’s 95 delegates would certainly help get him there.
Earlier this week, when Trump complained that Kasich was unnecessarily blocking his path to the nomination, Kasich rejected the notion that he might leave the race.
“I’m dropping in,” Kasich said, “I’m not dropping out.”