Yesterday while Donald Trump was giving out South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham’s phone number on national TV, Ohio Governor John Kasich was on the stage in Columbus announcing that he was the 16th member of GOP to seek his party’s presidential nomination in 2016.
Kasich is well worth paying attention to because he won over Democrats in The Buckeye State,” and he polls very well with independent voters. In short he might just be the Democratic Party’s worst nightmare. The question is whether he is also a nightmare for Republican primary voters who clearly not a fan of a moderate who can work with Democrats.
As most political junkies are aware, no Republican candidate has ever reached the White House without winning Ohio. The party’s decision to hold its 2016 convention in Cleveland probably won’t do much to improve its chances in the state, which President Barack Obama won twice. But what if the nominee were the state’s popular, pragmatic governor who is a native son of another key state Pennsylvania?
Kasich was born in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, an industrial town near Pittsburgh. He is the son of Anne (Vukovich) and John Kasich, who worked as a mail carrier. He went to school in McKees Rocks and attended college at Ohio State.
In 1978 at age 26, Kasich was the youngest person ever elected to the Ohio Senate. One of his first acts as a state senator was to refuse a pay raise. In 1982, Kasich ran for Congress in Ohio’s 12th District, based in Columbus, Ohio. He won the Republican primary with 83% of the vote, and defeated incumbent Democrat U.S. Congressman Bob Shamansky in the general election by a margin of 50%–47%. Kasich was re-elected eight times after 1982, winning at least 64% of the vote each time.
Kasich, while in Congress he made a name for himself as a deficit hawk who ultimately helped broker a bipartisan balanced budget agreement in 1997, which helped lead to large surpluses — a feat he has repeated as governor.
Yet the budget-slashing Kasich has long had a reputation for crossing party lines. He teamed up with liberals to close corporate tax loopholes. He voted to ban the sale of assault weapons. And last year, he expanded the state’s Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
While other Republican governors, including Florida’s Rick Scott ran as far as possible away from taking the money Kasich had no problem defending his position.
“I don’t know about you, lady,” he shot back at a wealthy party donor who criticized him for it. “But when I get to the pearly gates, I’m going to have an answer for what I’ve done for the poor.”
If the GOP really wanted a clone of Ronald Reagan then Kasich would be their man. But just like Reagan, Kasich has a very independent style that includes a very deeply rooted Christian faith, but it remains to be seen whether he can win over the religious right and the party’s activist base.
In a GOP world where candidates continue to move as far right as possible Kasich’s more moderate positions on education and immigration will not make it easy for him resonate with the base. He supports the Common Core education standards and is open, however reluctantly, to creating a pathway for citizenship for those here illegally.
Kasich can talk about his record as a hawk on foreign policy who has called for putting combat troops in Iraq to fight Islamic State. He cut taxes in Ohio by some $3 billion and went much further than Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to reduce the power of public-sector unions, pushing through a law restricting the issues subject to collective bargaining (although voters later repealed it).
Should the GOP wish to win in 2016 they would be wise to consider listening to Kasich is refreshingly direct, and has a long and successful history of working with both Republicans and Democrats to get things done both in Washington and Columbus.