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In Pennsylvania, Moderate Republicans Turn To John Kasich


Donald Trump has sidelined many establishment Republican candidates in this year's race. And that is leaving many mainstream GOP voters feeling left out as the party approaches the end of its nomination process. NPR's Don Gonyea is also in Pennsylvania, listening to how those voters are viewing the road ahead.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: With the Pennsylvania primary up next, there are lively political events everywhere this week, like last night's Philadelphia Republican Committee Spring Mixer, where the DJ pulled out a microphone and crooned an old Bobby Darin classic over the din of the crowd, Karaoke style.


UNIDENTIFIED DJ: (Singing) Somewhere beyond the sea, she's there watching for me.

GONYEA: The chatter slowly died down when speeches began.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Well, first off, I want to welcome everybody to South Philadelphia.

GONYEA: The three Republican presidential campaigns were invited to send surrogates to speak. Carly Fiorina was there for Ted Cruz. There was no one representing the Trump campaign, even though he had plenty of supporters here. And for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, it was former Pennsylvania Congressman Bob Walker.


BOB WALKER: And what matters this year is not who can win the primary, but who can win in the fall. We cannot afford to have Hillary Clinton become president of the United States.

GONYEA: Talk to a Kasich supporter here, and it's not unusual for them to tell you who they like before they started backing the Ohio governor.

MELISSA ANDERSON: I had been a Romney supporter. When I realized he was not going to run again, I thought, I need to find someone to support.

GONYEA: That's 34-year-old attorney and lifelong Republican Melissa Anderson.

ANDERSON: And I chose Gov. Kasich because I thought he has the experience to lead, and he's the one who can actually win in a general election.

GONYEA: That's a point Kasich supporters, like Congressman Walker and Anderson, drive home again and again when talking to a reporter or trying to persuade their friends - that polls show Kasich is the general election candidate who scares the Democrats. You hear something else from his backers, too. Here's 35-year-old Alyssa Prichep.

ALYSSA PRICHEP: I could never see myself supporting Trump.

GONYEA: She says she's a fiscal conservative who supports same-sex marriage and abortion rights, and she simply cannot tolerate how she thinks Donald Trump marginalizes so many different groups of people.

PRICHEP: Women, Muslims, immigrants, any kind of minority, I think, across the board. When you're condemning and putting down one group of people based on how they're born, their basic identity, just because of who they are, then you will do that to anybody.

GONYEA: Prichep says she knows John Kasich is a long-shot, but she says a vote for him now can keep his campaign alive. Then, she hopes - really hopes - that a deadlocked Republican convention will finally see him as its best option. I ask her, what if Trump is the nominee? After a long pause, she says she'd probably consider voting for Hillary Clinton, but the mere thought of that clearly makes her very uncomfortable.

Now, out to the Philadelphia suburbs, a place with plenty of swing voters. Sixty-three-year-old attorney Ray Falzone says he likes establishment Republicans like Mitt Romney and John McCain. So what about Kasich this year?

RAY FALZONE: I'm kind of disappointed that he didn't have a better showing up to this point because I think he's more of a presidential-type material, levelheaded. He's got a track record.

GONYEA: Then, he adds this.

FALZONE: I also see his chance as being slim and none, so it's like - I feel like I'm sort of wasting a vote if I vote for him, although he would be my number one pick, frankly, if he was in a better position.

GONYEA: Falzone says he won't vote Trump, so right now, he's leaning Cruz as the lesser of two evils. Now, it's not unusual for voters to be frustrated with their options in an election year like this, but it is unusual for mainstream Republicans to find themselves stuck with such a hard choice. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.