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Reveling in newfound relevance, Kasich faces fire

On the one hand, it's never fun to be attacked. On the other, Kasich can take comfort in the fact he's now relevant enough to be criticized.
Republican presidential candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks during a campaign stop, Jan. 26, 2016, in New Boston, N.H. (Photo by Matt Rourke/AP)
Republican presidential candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks during a campaign stop, Jan. 26, 2016, in New Boston, N.H.
Quick quiz: without looking, who would you say is in second place in the New Hampshire Republican primary, based on the latest polling? We know a certain New York developer is running first, but who's his next closest competitor? I suspect the most common assumptions would be Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.
But according to the Huffington Post's latest averages, it's actually Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) running second, slightly ahead of the far-right, better-known senators. (Real Clear Politics publishes its own related tally, which shows Kasich third -- half of a percentage point behind Cruz.)
For much of the cycle, Kasich has been relegated to afterthought status, and in national polling, that remains largely true. The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll found the governor with just 2% among Republicans nationwide. The latest CNN poll put Kasich's support even lower, at an embarrassing 1%.
But in New Hampshire, where the Ohioan has invested nearly all of his energies -- Kasich has effectively given up on Iowa -- the governor has made so much headway that the rival candidates who were inclined to ignore Kasich have decided instead to attack him. The New York Times reported overnight:

A pair of "super PACs" supporting Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida have begun to deliver attacks on Mr. Kasich on television and in the mail. Right to Rise, a pro-Bush PAC, is battering Mr. Kasich with harsh television ads and mail that label him "the worst on spending of any governor in the country." On television, commercials attack Mr. Kasich for supporting "massive defense cuts," and highlight his support in the 1990s for a military base-closing commission that shuttered a base in New Hampshire.

They're not alone. As we briefly mentioned yesterday, a secretive far-right group called the American Future Fund, which does not disclose its donors, is launching a $1 million ad campaign against the Ohio governor, telling New Hampshire Republicans Kasich is an "Obama Republican," not a conservative or a moderate.
It's a mixed blessing for Kasich.
On the one hand, with just 11 days remaining before the New Hampshire primary, the governor is facing his first real barrage of criticisms, and the attacks are raising points Granite State Republicans probably haven't heard before. If his rise in the polls has been largely uninterrupted, the campaign against him may very well affect his standing.
On the other hand, I suspect Kasich and his team are pleased that they're suddenly relevant enough to attack.
One thing seems certain: the publicly available polls probably aren't wrong. Team Jeb and Team Christie no doubt have their own internal data, and if they didn't show Kasich in a strong position, they wouldn't bother with attack ads now.