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John Kasich's political allies are reaching out to GOP megadonors, seeing if they’d back him in a run against Trump in 2020

  • Allies of John Kasich have reached out to prominent GOP donors to gauge their interest in backing the Republican Ohio governor against President Donald Trump in 2020.
  • Republican megadonors have indicated to Kasich's top political lieutenants that they are willing to back him over Trump under certain circumstances, sources told CNBC.
  • A Democratic wave this fall could indicate to donors that a change is needed at the top of the party.

Close allies of John Kasich have reached out to prominent GOP donors to gauge their interest in backing the Republican Ohio governor against President Donald Trump in a possible 2020 showdown, CNBC has learned.

Kasich has not decided whether he will run for president in 2020, but Republican megadonors have indicated to his top political lieutenants that they are willing to back him over Trump under certain circumstances, sources with direct knowledge of the matter told CNBC under the condition of anonymity.

In private discussions with Kasich's top political lieutenants, GOP megadonors have said they would support a Kasich presidential campaign depending on whether Republicans can hold congressional majorities this fall and how close federal investigations get to Trump, the sources said.

Republican presidential candidate Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks at a campaign rally at the Crowne Plaza Milwaukee West hotel on March 23, 2016 in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.
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Republican presidential candidate Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks at a campaign rally at the Crowne Plaza Milwaukee West hotel on March 23, 2016 in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.

A political spokesman for Kasich declined to comment.

According to the sources, the same Kasich allies who have met with some of the most influential donors in the country have suggested to the governor that there are two scenarios in which he should challenge Trump in a primary.

First, would come after a potential 2018 congressional midterm wave that gives Democrats majorities in the House and the Senate. With that, Republican voters could potentially move toward a candidate like Kasich, who is considered more of a centrist in the GOP. Such a loss in the midterms could also signal to GOP donors that there's a need for drastic change at the top.

Trump's approval rating stands at just lower than 42 percent, according to a polling average calculated by nonpartisan website Real Clear Politics.

The other scenario pitched to Kasich would ride on the political implications of the ongoing investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. The probe is looking into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian operatives during the 2016 presidential election and whether the president obstructed justice in the investigation.

If the investigation makes its way into the Oval Office, Kasich's friends have said, it may be an opportunity for the governor to run as either a Republican or an independent.

This latest development comes as buzz continues to build around another potential Kasich run for the White House. In March, he said "all of my options are on the table" for 2020, according to Politico.

The Ohio governor is also hitting states that are critical to winning presidential primaries. During his visit to New Hampshire earlier this month, he said in an interview with The New York Times that he considers himself a "hybrid" Republican and more people are approaching him since his loss in 2016.

"I have people of all shapes, sizes, philosophies and party preferences that approach me. But what does that mean? I don't know. I'm on television, so all the sudden they want to talk to me. Television moves everybody up, right?" he told the Times.

Charlie Black, a former advisor to Kasich's 2016 presidential campaign, told CNBC that he thinks the scenarios are part of an ongoing discussion and warned that his old boss would not stand a chance against Trump in a primary within the current political climate.

"Trump presently has about an 85 percent job approval among primary voters. Unless that dropped dramatically, no one can compete with him for the nomination," Black said. "He would have to be under 50 before I would advise anyone to run."

Kasich and the cash game

For donors, a blue wave in the upcoming elections could be a sign that the leadership of the GOP has to change starting at the top – particularly after investing millions of dollars in an electoral effort that many political strategists say could be a wash for Republicans.

The House is where the GOP is running into the biggest hurdles, with incumbents struggling to raise money and their districts turning in the favor of Democrats.

The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter that tracks elections, came out with a new study on Tuesday showing Democrats outraising Republicans in the first quarter of the year. The findings led the group to change ratings in seven GOP districts to more favorable status for Democrats.

"In the most recent fundraising period, Democrats outraised Republicans in at least 60 GOP-held seats, more than twice the 23 seats Democrats need for a majority. Meanwhile, the reverse is true in just five Democratic-held seats," the report said.

If Kasich, who won only his home state during the 2016 GOP primaries, chooses to run in 2020, he's going to need the cash that he struggled to cobble together the last time he ran for president.

While he had a formidable fundraising operation, Kasich's 2016 presidential campaign committee ended up with $176,000 on hand, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. At the same time, his campaign raised $18 million, while the pro-Kasich super PAC, New Day for America, brought in $15 million.

The PAC is still active and has $281,000 on hand, according to financial disclosure reports. Even though the group hasn't received many contributions this year, it raked in donations that went up to $100,000 in 2017.

— Graphic by CNBC's John Schoen.