John Kasich was ready with an answer last week when I told him that callers from across the country to my radio program often use words like adult, substance, and civility to describe him, but wonder how he can win. The Ohio governor assured me that Republicans are headed for an open convention, where, he said, there will be two issues:

"Number one, who can win in the fall? And I'm the only candidate who consistently beats Hillary Clinton. And secondly, delegates take this seriously. They begin to feel the weight of big decisions on their shoulders, and they're going to ask who has the record, who has the accomplishments, and who can be president."

Four days after our conversation, a Quinnipiac University poll showed that while Kasich is in third place in Pennsylvania (trailing front-runner Donald Trump by 15 points among likely Republican voters), he is the only GOP candidate who beats either Democratic candidate in the commonwealth. Kasich defeats Clinton, 51-35, and Bernie Sanders, 46-40.

Pennsylvania matters in 2016. Just as in 1860, when Simon Cameron struck a deal that delivered the state's delegation to Abraham Lincoln, ensuring him the nomination, and in 1976, when Ronald Reagan unsuccessfully sought to curry favor with the state's delegates by selecting native son Richard Schweiker as his running mate.

What remains to be seen is whether "winning" tops the priority list of those who will represent a state that no Republican has won since George H.W. Bush in 1988. In the intervening 28 years, many have characterized the state as purple, but it will be in play this year only insofar as the delegates follow the advice of GOP National Committeeman Bob Asher and "keep their powder dry."

Asher, a former state party chair committed to Kasich, told me that at the convention, "the objective of the delegates and the party at that point in time will be to beat Hillary." While he is confident that will be the goal of the 14 "at-large" delegates selected by the state party chair, what's unknown is the predilection of the remaining 54 delegates, who are elected in groups of three from each of the state's 18 congressional districts. They are uncommitted, and there is no indication of what their sentiments are before the election.

Tom Ellis is a case in point. The former chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners served as an alternate delegate in 2000 and a delegate in 2012, and is running this year from the 13th Congressional District. Ellis told me he feels obligated to vote for whoever wins the 13th on April 26 - for the first ballot.

"It is imperative that those who take time to come out and vote have their voices heard. In the Pennsylvania Republican system, the voter can vote his/her preference and then be ignored by the elected delegates. This is not morally justifiable on the first ballot," said Ellis, who thinks that, despite Trump's poor showing in Wisconsin, he is the favorite in the 13th.

Like Asher, Ellis told me winning is the important thing. "But all bets are off once we proceed to a second ballot and beyond," he said. "Then we enter into the fictional world of this season's House of Cards and Gore Vidal's The Best Man. Pennsylvania's delegation would be wise to then come together and vote as a bloc of 71, giving us real power to name a candidate for either president or at least VP. The name Tom Ridge, our favorite son, comes to mind."

Not a bad idea.

When I spoke to former Gov. Ridge, he deflected any talk of his own name being put forth, but noted the nature of those typically sent to a party convention from the commonwealth.

"There are a lot of worker bees who go there. I know people who save for a year or two to go to the convention," he said. "You have the congressmen there and you got the senators there, you got county chairman there. But you also have the worker bees of the party - they're the ones who turn out the vote effort, they knock on doors. So the makeup, the economic and political makeup of these delegates is somewhat different than the national media attributes to them. And I think at the end, they want a winner."

"They see primaries as a series of political skirmishes," he added. "But once you get to that convention in Cleveland, if no one gets that 1,237, all these people are interested in not only electing a president; they want to reelect their senator, reelect their congressman. There are some local offices, and they're going to be looking to the individual they think can defeat Hillary in the fall. And so they're not as interested in Pyrrhic victories on a state-by-state battle, but they're interested in the major political battle . . . in November."

The idea that Trump could win the state but not hold the delegation makes my CNN colleague Jeffrey Lord nervous.

"The establishment will stick this until their fingers are pried off the grip of the nomination," said Lord, a Trump supporter and veteran of Ronald Reagan's White House and John Heinz's Senate staff. "They will do everything they can to thwart him [Trump] and Ted Cruz."

For his part, Kasich hopes for a rewarding and enlightening experience.

"Our kids are going to get an education about how does somebody get elected president. How does the whole system work?" Kasich said. "And for all of us who want a better civic education for our kids, they are about to get it."

Michael Smerconish can be heard from 9 a.m. to noon on SiriusXM's POTUS Channel 124 and seen hosting "Smerconish" at 9 a.m. Saturdays on CNN.