John Kasich and Chris Christie shared a similar road to the Republican nomination for president. On the trail and in debates, they’d tout their experience as governors of not-so-red states; speak candidly, but not as candidly as Donald Trump; and, most importantly, use the New Hampshire primary as a jumping-off point to a real national campaign.
But in New Hampshire, that road forked. Kasich, who placed second, gets to move on to South Carolina next, and is hoping to really shine once the race hits Midwestern states next month. Christie, a disappointing sixth, dropped out early Wednesday evening, betrayed by the state where he’d invested so much time and money. Few candidates in the race have looked so alike and yet seen their fates diverge so sharply. The field might have room for many candidates, but it’s only got one spot for a moderate executive who’s just trying to tell it like it is.
It’s not clear, in the post-primary haze, exactly what went wrong for Christie or right for Kasich. And it’d be disingenuous to suggest the Ohio governor’s slice of supporters had all previously been torn between him and Christie. But the candidates were certainly gunning for the same kind of voter there in New Hampshire: those middle-of-the-road independents and conservatives that are a hallmark of the contest; the same kind of voter who wouldn’t necessarily begrudge candidates with a history of aisle-crossing positions, like support for Common Core or Medicaid expansion. Both men also hoped to provide a responsible alternative to Trump’s brand of brash talk—equally blunt, but more thoughtful.