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GOP presidential candidate John Kasich’s top campaign strategist is lowering expectations for the Ohio governor to defeat billionaire businessman Donald Trump in Michigan’s March 8 primary if five men remain in the race after Republicans in 11 states vote Tuesday.

“If we’re talking about a fractured field going into Michigan, then that makes it difficult for anyone other than Donald Trump to win Michigan,” John Weaver, Kasich’s chief strategist, said Sunday in a conference call with reporters. “That’s just the reality — I’m not going to try to spin it any other way.”

Kasich plans to kickoff a week-long campaign across Michigan on Wednesday after the Super Tuesday contests in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Virginia.

“We’re going to campaign hard in Michigan, we understand the state economically, we understand the people of Michigan — what they’ve gone through, what they’re going through, what their fears and concerns are,” said Weaver, who worked on Gov. Rick Snyder’s 2010 campaign. “And we’re going to give it our best effort and we think we’re going to do well there.”

“But we’re under no illusion until this race is down to between Gov. Kasich and Mr. Trump that the forces of sanity will prevail overall,” Weaver added.

Kasich is in a battle with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz to be the remaining candidate to face Trump one-on-one for the remainder of the primary season. The fifth man remaining in the race, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, remains distant in most polls behind Kasich, Cruz, Rubio and frontrunner Trump.

Weaver suggested Cruz may not have a reason to continue campaigning after Tuesday if he only pulls out a narrow win in his home state of Texas on Tuesday.

To win a share of Michigan’s 59 delegates, Republican candidates have to win at least 15 percent of the statewide popular vote.

“I don’t know that Ted Cruz will still be campaigning by the time we get to the Michigan primary, he may or may not, but everybody else will still be in it and that makes it difficult,” Weaver said. “I know from polling, that if it was one-on-one in Michigan, we’d beat Donald Trump by 20 points. But it’s not.”

Kasich wants to use Michigan’s March 8 primary as a springboard to win the Ohio primary on March 15 — a day Weaver described like sudden death in the NCAA college basketball tournament, which, ironically, begins that same day in Dayton, Ohio.

“The race itself won’t be narrowed until the 15th when it’s kind of win or go home as you would have in March Madness in the NCAA,” Weaver said. “Marco Rubio has to win or go home. We have to win Ohio or not go further.”

Kasich will begin a likely seven-day campaign stretch in Michigan with a town hall meeting Wednesday morning at the Michigan Union on the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan. Other town hall meetings are planned in Grand Blanc and Warren that day.

On Thursday night, the Republican presidential candidates will square off in a televised debate from the Fox Theatre in downtown Detroit.

Kasich’s campaign has scheduled additional town hall events Friday evening in Holland and Saturday afternoon in Marquette.

clivengood@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3660

Twitter.com/ChadLivengood

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