By John Celock
In a somewhat rambling, unscripted speech, Ohio Gov. John Kasich became the 16th candidate to enter the Republican presidential race Tuesday.
Positioning himself as a moderate choice in the race, Kasich used his speech to talk about his record and the need for “big, bold ideas” in the country. He set the speech as a succession to his entire career saying that people have said that he could not do things but had done them. Kasich has been trailing in the single digits in the large Republican field, a polling position that might not be able to qualify him for the first debate in August.
“All my life people have told me that you can’t do this,” Kasich said. “I do believe in the power of big bold ideas.”
Kasich made much of his speech a pitch to voters in the first primary state of New Hampshire, including being introduced by former U.S. Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) during his Ohio speech. Kasich’s speech focused on a variety of bread and butter issues, including fiscal policy and drugs, that have been traditionally mentioned by voters in moderate New Hampshire.
Kasich focused much on his record as governor and as the U.S. House Budget Committee chairman in the 1990s. He said that he wanted to take his experience as a fiscal manager to the White House, noting that he passed four balanced budgets during the 1990s, the first federally balanced budgets since the late 1960s. Kasich noted that he had cut taxes during his governorship.
Kasich did not mention the low points of his gubernatorial tenure, including a 2011 statewide referendum, which overturned a collective bargaining repeal that he had signed into law.
Kasich highlighted the need to work in a bipartisan fashion, noting that during his term as chairman of the Ohio Senate Health Committee in the 1970s he worked with a Democratic majority in the state House of Representatives on legislation.
“There I learned that policy is far more important than politics and ideology,” Kasich said in his speech.
Kasich has long played up a moderate record as he looks to enter the presidential race, including his enacting the Medicaid expansion in the state. Kasich enacted the health care policy – a signature component of Obamacare – through a state oversight board after receiving resistance from the Republican-controlled state Legislature.
Kasich did use the speech to highlight conservative bona fides, including his past stint as a commentator on Fox News and his commitment to funding the military. He also talked about working as a campaign aide to President Ronald Reagan during Reagan’s unsuccessful bid for the GOP presidential nomination in 1976.
In 1976 I went out to the convention in Kansas City and not only worked for Ronald Reagan, I worked with Ronald Reagan,” Kasich said. “I got to travel with Ronald Reagan. I actually knew the real guy not through the history books.”
Kasich launched his political career at the age of 26 when he was elected to the state Senate in 1978. In 1982 he was the only Republican to defeat a Democratic incumbent for a congressional seat. In Congress he rose to chair the House Budget Committee when the GOP took the majority in 1995. He stepped down from Congress in 2000, when he also briefly sought the GOP presidential nomination.
He spent much of the next decade as a Fox News commentator and working in investment banking before reentering politics in 2010 challenging then Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D). Kasich defeated Strickland by two percentage points in 2010 and then easily defeated then Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald (D) 64 percent to 33 percent in 2014 to capture a second term. FitzGerald’s campaign was hampered by a series of scandals.
Kasich’s announcement was unscripted – his typical style – and at times meandering. He has been known for speeches in this style, including his 2012 State of the State address, where he praised his “hot wife,” imitated a Parkinson’s patient and praised then Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee 14 times during the speech.
Kasich has not unified the entire Ohio GOP behind his presidential campaign. State Treasurer Josh Mandel (R), who has long had an uneasy relationship with Kasich, endorsed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for the GOP nomination earlier this year. Mandel has emerged as one of Rubio’s most visible backers in recent months.
Kasich’s announcement was attended by Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor (R), Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) and state Auditor Dave Yost (R), along with officials within the Ohio Republican Party. Taylor, Husted, Mandel and Yost are all seen as potential gubernatorial or U.S. Senate candidates in 2018 when they are term limited from their current offices.
Kasich enters a large GOP field that is slated to grow larger in the coming weeks when former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore formally enters the race.
Kasich said that he wants to see more personal responsibility in the country and noted that he wants to help bring that as president. He remained confident in the country’s future.
“The sun is going to rise to the zenith in America again,” he said.