John Kasich, who officially joined the Republican presidential field on Tuesday, ranks way back in 12th place in the national polls, and is perhaps even further behind in Iowa. He has few impressive endorsements nationally, in Iowa or in New Hampshire.

John Kasich, who officially joined the Republican presidential field on Tuesday, ranks way back in 12th place in the national polls, and is perhaps even further behind in Iowa. He has few impressive endorsements nationally, in Iowa or in New Hampshire.


Yet his slow start doesn’t mean he can be written off. I see him (along with Mike Huckabee) as a second-tier candidate, behind only Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker in the first tier.


After all, Kasich is the popular second-term governor of Ohio, a crucial swing state, and was a nine-term congressman who was chairman of the House Budget Committee during the boom years of the late 1990s. He has demonstrated both electoral and governing strengths, and should appeal to Republicans who want to win and who want competency in the White House.


True, history would seem to be working against him. If you look at the recent Republican record, all of the presidential candidates who eventually became their party’s nominees had established themselves as serious contenders by this point — measured by polls, endorsements or fundraising.


But there is one crucial difference. Even when the races were open, with no incumbent president or vice president or any other obvious candidate staking an early claim to the nomination, all of the Republican contests — in 1996, 2000, 2008 and 2012 — had stronger frontrunners at this juncture than the 2016 cycle has.


And several serious contenders didn’t really get it going until about this point in the process or later. Look at Mike Huckabee in 2008, Rick Perry in 2012 and, on the Democrats’ side, Howard Dean and John Edwards in 2004. Perry, for example, started moving up in the polls in June 2011, and his endorsements came later, after his official announcement. He never won a primary in 2012. But he had a real claim to have been the runner-up until his campaign collapsed in fall 2011, after some dismal debate performances.


None of these late bloomers won a nomination, of course, but each came close enough to ponder the might-have-beens and should-have-dones. We don’t know if Kasich will even break out of the pack at all. But it’s too soon to say that he and several other candidates (including Huckabee and Perry again) don’t have a chance.


Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist covering U.S. politics.