State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miaimisburg, talks about what it will be like to attend his first Republican National Convention.

Ohio delegates slow to embrace Trump

Most still prefer Kasich over the presumptive nominee.

Republicans begin meeting today in Cleveland to hand over the party keys to Donald Trump, but he has some obvious work to do if he wants to generate enthusiasm for his candidacy with GOP delegates in Ohio.

Nearly a quarter of those delegates — 22 percent — won’t vote for him as president, according to a recent Columbus Dispatch survey sent to all 66 Ohio delegates and 63 alternates.

Trump may have calmed some concerns last week with his choice of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to be his running mate, a move many party insiders applauded. Among the many questions to be resolved this week is whether the Pence selection causes unhappy Republicans to feel better about their presidential ticket.

Even as they get set to gather in Cleveland, Ohio’s delegates have made clear their preference was for their own governor, John Kasich, to be leading the ticket.

“I’m a supporter of Governor Kasich,” said state Rep. Tim Derickson, R-Oxford. “And that’s the only reason I’m going.”

Of the 129 delegates and alternates, 77 responded to the Dispatch survey, so it’s possible there are more Trump supporters in the group. But nearly 39 percent of those responding say they are “somewhat enthused” about Trump, while 27 percent say they are “not very enthused” and 19 percent say they are “not at all enthused,” according to the survey.

Only 16 percent described themselves as “very enthused” about the New York billionaire.

Among general election Republican voters, 51 percent would rather have a candidate besides Trump, according to a Fox News poll taken last month.

“I supported Gov. Kasich for president from the beginning and I continue to think he would make the best candidate,” said State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, who will be attending his first convention.

Antani said he has not been asked, “nor do I plan to do any serious campaigning” for Trump. “But I’m certainly not going to oppose him in any sense.”

Kasich topped Trump 46.8 percent to 35.6 percent with Ohio Republican primary voters but failed to win any other state and dropped out of the race in May. He has yet to endorse Trump or agree to participate in official convention events, which is highly unusual for a sitting governor in the state where the convention is being held.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, says he will attend but is not on the speakers list.

As late as last week, some Kasich supporters reportedly were encouraging him to wait in the wings as a last-minute “dump Trump” replacement. But the party leadership appears to have beaten back an effort by rules committee rebels to derail a Donald Trump nomination.

‘I’m happy to vote for Kasich’

Trump clearly isn’t Dave Hobson’s first choice, but he sees no path for a candidate besides Trump to get the nomination. The former congressman from Springfield has been to many conventions, but this is his first as a delegate.

Because Kasich won Ohio, the delegates are pledged to him during the first round of balloting. Trump is expected to win on the first ballot, which would mean there is no second round of voting.

“I think we’re one vote and out of there,” said Hobson. “I’m happy to vote for Kasich. And I’m not going to comment any further.”

In the absence of unified support for Trump, distaste for the presumptive Democratic nominee seems to be motivating factor for some delegates.

“Look, he’s going to be our party’s nominee. I’m a Kasich delegate because he won the primary,” Antani said. “But my stance is, anyone’s better than Hillary Clinton.”

Ohio Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, campaigned in 14 states for Kasich during the primaries. He said the party needs to come to grips with Trump or experience a Democrat in the White House for another term.

“While Mr. Trump wasn’t my candidate … he’ll be my nominee,” Faber said. “Staying out’s not an option. People who choose not to participate for whatever reason are effectively going to support the other side.”

‘He’s not perfect’

Antani fears Trump’s stated support for some liberal positions in the past could keep conservatives on the sidelines in November.

“He used to be pro-choice and he complimented Planned Parenthood in an internationally televised debate during the Republican primary,” Antani said. “Even since becoming the presumptive nominee he has advocated or said he would consider raising the minimum wage. I’m concerned about that.”

Michael Gonidakis, 42, of Dublin, a delegate who is also president of Ohio Right to Life, said he worked hard for Kasich’s primary bid but is now supporting Trump. Gonidakis also knows and likes Pence.

“I’m excited about this ticket because I have a 90 percent chance he will appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court and a zero percent chance Hillary Clinton will,” he said. “I will take any other Republican over Hillary Clinton any day of the week.”

Of Trump, he said: “He’s not perfect. We’re not nominating our clergy here. We’re nominating our president and they’re all deeply flawed.”

Derickson, who was tapped by Kasich to as a last-minute replacement for Ross McGregor, a former state legislator from Springfield who backed out due to a family obligation, won’t say if he will vote for Donald Trump after the dust settles in Cleveland.

“There’s no way I can speculate on that right now, nor would I,” he said. “Right now I’m a supporter of John Kasich.”

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