MANCHESTER, N.H. (TNS) — If John Kasich wins the Republican presidential nomination, it will be through a strategy of attrition, focused on his strength at home in Ohio and elsewhere in the Midwest.

Buoyed by his second-place finish in the New Hampshire primary, Ohio’s governor arrived before dawn Wednesday in South Carolina, which holds the next GOP contest Feb. 20.

He appeared on NBC’s “Today” show, where he vowed — notwithstanding his pledge to run a positive campaign — to fight back if attacked.

“I’m not gonna sit there and be a marshmallow and have somebody pound me,” Kasich said. “We’re not just gonna sit back and take a pounding from anybody. But at the same time we’re going to tell people what we’re for, and I think people really, really like it.”

A senior campaign strategist, meantime, described Kasich’s hoped-for path forward, which amounts to a last-man-standing strategy as others fall away, starting with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the South Carolina contest.

The strategist spoke on condition he not be identified discussing the campaign’s envisioned road map.

Kasich doesn’t hope to win South Carolina, the strategist said, but simply finish strongly enough to survive if Rubio or Bush — or both — drop out.

On March 1, when more than a dozen states vote, the Kasich strategy is to win a handful of states and stay in the mix, with Massachusetts, Vermont, Tennessee and Virginia seen among his prime targets.

Michigan on March 8 is seen as vital a must-win state, that will see the same sort of intense focus that Kasich applied to New Hampshire.

From there, Kasich hopes to roll up wins at home in Ohio, and in Illinois and Missouri, which would catapult him forward into the remaining contests and help build an irreversible lead in the delegate count.

The one unknown, as it has been throughout this most unconventional campaign, is how Donald Trump, the overwhelming winner in New Hampshire, performs from here.

“I’m not going to try to predict what happens to him,” said the Kasich strategist. “But as the race narrows, others will rise, and he’s not going to get the support of the votes of people backing others who drop out.”

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