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Despite long odds, Republican Trump naysayers are seeing what the mood is in New Hampshire

GOP rivals weigh potential bids against Trump

Former Ohio Governor John Kasich plans to visit New Hampshire next month to see what the mood is in the state, CBS News confirmed, according to a source familiar with the governor's thinking. The source said that Kasich wants to be a part of the conversation, although another presidential bid isn't likely. 

According to the source, on his trip to the state, the governor will discuss the need for greater civility in our political process and how leaders are meant to govern. The Washington Post first reported Kasich's upcoming trip.

In May, Kasich told CNN, "Right now, there's no path" to the presidency, though he added, "But we never know what the future is going to bring."

This source said that in conversations with Kasich both over the past two years and in recent weeks, the former governor has maintained a "realistic" outlook on 2020 and understands that there's little chance that President Trump will face a real primary challenge. Kasich is uninterested in the kind of longshot bid that's being undertaken by former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld or that former South Carolina Congressman Mark Sanford is considering.

Sanford, who has grown increasingly discouraged by the president's spending and the growing deficit crisis, would focus his campaign on righting the economic policies of the president and the GOP. He told CBS News that if he runs, he'll be bringing the conversation around to traditional linchpins of the Republican Party. "Debt and deficit spending, issues like trade," he said, adding, "or even tone." His candidacy, he hopes, would push the Republican Party into a national conversation about what it means to be a Republican.

After he lost his congressional re-election primary in 2018, Sanford, who is also the former governor of South Carolina, said he was approached by friends who told him, "God just cleared your calendar for a reason. Here's what you need to do." He said he was initially reluctant. "That's preposterous. That's crazy," he said. "But there's been something of a drumbeat since then. Now I'm contemplating this."

The concern about the direction of the economy he thinks works in his favor. But one factor for Sanford is whether he'd have enough time to mount a bid. "If you look at a state like New Hampshire, there certainly is historic precedent for somebody getting in during this window of time," he said. He has also studied New Hampshire's role in past re-election campaigns. 

"New Hampshire takes great pride in its ability to upset the apple cart," he said, citing Pat Buchanan's 1992 challenge against incumbent President George H.W. Bush and Senator Ted Kennedy's 1980 bid against President Jimmy Carter. While both of those presidents ultimately prevailed in the primaries, Buchanan and Kennedy took their toll, both winning about 37% of the vote, and Bush and Carter both ended up as one-term presidents.

Sanford visited the state earlier this month to meet with GOP political operatives and Republican leaders.  He understands that if he gets into the race, it'll be an uphill battle, dryly noting that the last the president who didn't win his party's nomination was Chester Arthur in 1884.

Former Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, who contemplated a presidential bid briefly but dropped the idea, said he's still fielding calls from donors eager to convince him to challenge Mr. Trump. "There's been an uptick lately because, I believe, the possibility of recession coming up. And people believe if the economy isn't strong, then there isn't much to recommend the president or Republicans."

A source familiar with Flake's thinking told CBS News that Flake feels he's just one of many Republicans getting calls from donors. Those who once felt Mr. Trump was invincible are now worried because of the uncertainty in the economy. Flake, who is now a CBS News contributor, thinks that Kasich stand a better chance than other possible GOP contenders because of his second-place finish in New Hampshire in 2016.

New Hampshire has a lot to offer to insurgent candidates, a former top Kasich adviser and former New Hampshire Attorney General Tom Rath points out. Independents can vote in the primary, for one. "It's very important that you're not just dealing with a party that's defined by card-carrying, declared members of a party," he said. And the state takes its role as the first-in-the-nation primary very seriously, he said, boasting a primary turnout rate that's around 70%.

Kasich will make his trip after the New Hampshire Democratic Convention in early September, though beyond that timing, no venue and no specific date or time have been set. But Kasich is eager to return to the first-in-the-nation primary state, where he placed second to Donald Trump in 2016. His enthusiasm about returning, however, should not be interpreted as the initiation of presidential campaign, the source added. 

Neither the president's Manchester rally last week nor the current state of the economy influenced the governor's decision, the source said. The trip has been in the planning stages for at least several weeks.

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