CLEVELAND - Ohio Gov. John Kasich is all over town this week, except inside the Republican convention hall downtown.

Kasich, a Republican, has taken the rare and impolitic step of boycotting his party's convention in his home state, drawing scorn from party nominee (and former primary rival) Donald Trump's campaign. Suffice it to say he's not on the "Trump Train."

Instead, Kasich is pursuing a schedule that looks an awful lot like a road map for somebody planning to run for president again in 2020.

"I'm just a slob trying to get through the day, doing the best I can," Kasich said, in his wry way, at an Ohio party honoring him and his campaign Tuesday afternoon at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Also on Tuesday, he told Michigan Republicans that he would be glad to travel north to campaign for their candidates. And he defended free trade and immigration at a think tank and spoke to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He plans to meet Wednesday with delegates from New Hampshire, which holds the first primary.

Strategists believe Kasich could provide a boost to moderate Republicans on the ballot who might face an anti-Trump backlash in their states or districts. In fact, the Ohio governor is scheduled to campaign Friday for GOP U.S. House nominee Brian Fitzpatrick in Bucks County's Eighth District.

At any rate, Kasich will not endorse Trump, whom he has described as divisive and negative, despite having said during the primaries he would back the eventual GOP nominee. He did not criticize the billionaire by name in his travels Tuesday, but he got his point across with implicit contrasts.

At the Hall of Fame, Kasich soared high above the crowd on an escalator. Later, he took the stage to "Baba O'Riley" by the Who, blasting at jet-takeoff volume. "I don't need to fight / To prove I'm right / I don't need to be forgiven, yeah, yeah, yeah."

The governor's aides denied that the escalator was a jibe at Trump, who famously announced his campaign by riding one down to the lobby of his gilded tower in Manhattan. It was a matter of logistics, they said.

"When I traveled around the country, I had a message of unity and uplift," Kasich said. "It's about connecting hearts and lives again."

He added that he quit the race so as not to abandon his tone. "I'm an optimist," he said. "America is the leader of the world, the light. We can't shrink or run away from it."

Pressure for at least the appearance of party unity is mounting, and Trump's campaign has grown irritated with Kasich's distance. The frustration has spilled into the open.

On Monday, campaign manager Paul Manafort called the Ohio governor "petulant" for not getting with the program. "He's making a big mistake," Manafort said. "He's looking at something that is not going to happen. He's hurting his state. He's embarrassing his state."

Speaking to NBC Nightly News, Kasich said he laughed when heard the remarks. "I don't hold any personal animus towards Donald Trump," he said. But for him to speak at the convention, the nominee would "have to change everything that he says," Kasich continued. "We can't be attacking Muslims and Hispanics and trying to shut down trade and not caring about the debt."

Kasich could be standing on his principles - he is known, even by fans, for stubbornness - or making a calculation.

"He may be thinking ahead," said Paul A. Beck, emeritus professor of political science at Ohio State University. "If Trump loses and loses badly, who will be around to pick up the pieces? If that happened, the way might be open for Kasich. He'd be well positioned as a popular [former] governor in an important swing state."

The risk for Kasich, Beck added, is that he may generate ill will among Republicans for withholding support of the party's presidential nominee.

Of course, there is a risk for the Trump campaign in alienating Kasich as well. Ohio is a must-win state, and he needs all the help he can get.

"He's doing a good job as governor, but my basic concern is that he get with the program," said Edward Mahoney III, an alternate delegate from Canton who attended the Kasich rally. "I don't understand what he's doing. This election is so important, and everybody knows you never get exactly who you want. So ride with it."

Kasich walked off the stage at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to another classic rock anthem from the Who: "I'll get on my knees and pray we don't get fooled again . . . meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

tfitzgerald@phillynews.com

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