John Kasich, the two-term Republican governor of Ohio, announced his candidacy for the 2016 GOP nomination for President at a rally on the campus of Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio today.
Kasich, who barely cracks 2 percent in most national polls of Republican primary voters, becomes the sixteenth Republican to join the race for the GOP nomination.
While most pundits give him little chance of winning the nomination, Kasich made two things clear in his announcement—he doesn’t care that few political experts give him much of a chance to win, and he intends to have fun along the way.
Polls show that Kasich, who easily won re-election to a second term as governor in 2014, is the Republican candidate with the best chance of winning the critical swing state of Ohio against Hillary Clinton, the likely Democrat nominee. However, to date, Kasich’s popularity in Ohio has not translated into much support in any of the other 49 states.
Before winning election to his first term as governor in 2010, Kasich served nine terms in Congress, worked as a managing director at the investment banking firm Lehman Brothers from 2001 until its bankruptcy in 2008, and was a Fox News contributor from 2001 to 2009.
Speaking before a hometown crowd at Ohio State University in Columbus, Kasich began by telling his personal story, then hit on three themes—his record of executive leadership, the fears of the American people, and an optimistic vision of Americans working together to solve problems.
“I am here to ask you for your prayers your support your efforts because I have decided to run for President of the United States,” Kasich told the crowd. “I believe I do have the skills, and I have the experience … and the testing , the testing which shapes you and prepares you for the most important job in the world,” he said.
“We are going to take the lessons from the heartland and straighten out Washington, D.C. and fix our country,” Kasich promised.
“We’re a divided country, but we can fix it,” Kasich added.
“I know what needs to be done,” Kasich asserted, pointing to his record as governor of Ohio. When he took office in 2011, “we were $8 billion in the hole,” he said. There was “a lot of hopelessness here, particularly among the poor and minorities.”
But, Kasich said, “we just had to use a 21st century formula: improve things.”
“Tax cuts of $5 billion, the largest in the country,” Kasich noted, were part of the turnaround for Ohio.
“The sun is going to rise to the zenith in America again, I promise it will happen,” Kasich added.
Kasich addressed the economy, saying that “creating jobs is our highest moral purpose,” but later added the caveat that “economic growth is not an end unto itself.”
In addition to pointing to his problem-solving record as governor of Ohio, Kasich addressed several issues of policy.
“Our military must be improved. We need to cut the bureaucracy and improve our services.We must assume our role as leaders of the world,” he said.
Kasich also criticized high levels of spending by the federal government.
“We don’t have the right as adults to ring up debts and pass them on to the next generation,” he noted.
Kasich pointed to one solution he supports to rein in spending: the Balanced Budget Amendment.
“How about a little Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution so Congress will start doing its job?” he asked rhetorically.
Though he pointed to his record of fiscal constraints, conservatives have criticized Kasich for imposing Medicaid expansion on the state of Ohio without obtaining approval from the state’s legislature by diverting federal budget money from another area to Medicaid.
In his introduction, former Senator John Sununu (R-NH) said of Kasich, “he led the way to America’s first balanced budget since man walked on the moon. And I’ll tell you something else. He can do it again.”
“John Kasich has delivered a record of success and achievement that no one else in this race can match,” Sununu said.
Kasich, Sununu concluded, is “exactly what America needs: a President that doesn’t need any on-the-job training.”
An enthusiastic crowd of supporters grooved out to the tunes of “Hang on Sloopy,” as they waited for Kasich to appear.
Accompanied by his wife and two daughters, Kasich strode to the podium with a confidence and enthusiasm. He began with personal stories of the birth of his twin daughters, and his uncle who served in World War II. Then he spoke of his mother and father.
“John the mailman, he watched out for all of us,” Kasich said of his father.
Kasich then ran through a laundry list of fears troubling Americans today.
He spoke of the fear young adults who have gone to college have heavy debt and are “living in the attic” of their parents house have about the future.
He also spoke of “the problems of bad health.”
“Will I be bankrupted and lose everything I have?” Kasich said is a question many people have.
He also noted there is “the fear of the tsunami of drugs.”
Kasich also addressed problems of poverty and the minority community.
“Some people don’t have the fortune that many of us have. Can they rise? Can they pull the rest of their family up the ladder?” Kasich said of the poor.
African-Americans, Kasich said, sometimes may think “the system sometimes doesn’t work for me, some times that system works against me.”
Safety, Kasich said, is another fear.
“Chattanooga, Ft. Hood, are we safe?” they ask, Kasich said, referencing two recent instances of Muslim terrorism where members of the U.S. Armed Forces were killed.
“These are the worries that many Americans have,” Kasich summarized, before turning to optimistic solutions.
“We’ve had a lot worse. Think about the Civil War. How about the racial violence we experienced in the early days of television? Ask your mom and dad about the Depression.You all remember that crystal clear morning and the horror we felt on 9-11?” Kasich said, noting that Americans addressed all these problems “by staying together with our eyes on the horizon. [Thinking] about the future.”
Kasich then told the story of Wilmington,Ohio.
“One day an employer said we’re leaving we’re out of here…. Thousands of people went from getting a paycheck on a Friday afternoon to visiting a food pantry so they can feed their kids,” Kasich noted.
“I was down there on that afternoon in 2010,” Kasich said, while campaigning for governor.
When he got back on the campaign bus, he spoke to his campaign staff.
“Folks, do you understand, ….What we are doing here, this isn’t a political campaign… Did you see those people? did you see the tears in their eyes?” Kasich said he told his staff.
“Our mission as human beings as children of God is to lift them up, and guess what? In Wilmington today the sun’s coming up. I told them the sun would come up again…. The sun is going to rise to the zenith in America again, I promise it will happen,” Kasich told the crowd, though he did not offer specifics on what Wilmington had done to recover.
Kasich then turned to his personal journey, which he said was influenced by President Ronald Reagan.
“In 1976 I got to travel for and with Ronald Reagan,” Kasich said of his work running five states at the 1976 Republican National Convention for Reagan in his first failed attempt to win the GOP nomination.
“I actually knew the guy, the real guy, not the history books,” Kasich said of his relationship with Reagan.
“Big ideas change the world,” Kasich said is one thing he learned from Ronald Reagan.
In 1977, “I was 24 and a half years old but I had a big idea,” Kasich said.
That big idea was to run for the Ohio State Senate.
“I won that election [in 1978],” Kasich said. He noted that, at the time, the Ohio State Senate was run by the Democrats.
“That is where I learned that policy is far more important than politics, ideology, or any of the other nonsense we see,” Kasich said of his time working with Democrats in the Ohio State Senate.
In part of his speech, Kasich sounded more like a preacher or a motivational instructor than a Presidential candidate. He emphasized six key personal qualities that are important to a return to American success: personal responsibility, resilience, empathy, teamwork, family, and faith.
“Personal responsibility needs to be restored in our country. The dog ate my homework went out in the fifth grade,” Kasich said.
“Resilience. . . I have been knocked down so many times. Getting knocked down is not the problem, it’s refusing to get up.”
“Empathy. . . This one is so important… put yourself in the shoes of another person… The Lord wants our hearts to reach out to those who don’t have what we have,” Kasich noted.
“Teamwork. . . It was team that carried them through,” Kasich said of Tom Moe, who he appointed as Director of Ohio’s Department of Veterans Services in 2011. Moe was a prisoner-of-war in North Viet Nam.
“Family,” Kasich said, then reiterated the importance of his wife, daughters, uncle, mother and father.
“Faith . . . God didn’t put us on this earth just to take care of ourselves, he put us here on this earth to make things a little bit better,” Kasich elaborated.
Kasich closed by referencing God and “the city on a hill” used so often by Ronald Reagan.
“I’m just a flawed man,” Kasich said, “trying to honor God’s blessings in my life. I don’t even understand it. He’s been very good to me. I will do my very best to serve you.”
“The light of a city on a hill can not be hidden,” Kasich concluded, repeating the phrase made popular by Ronald Reagan a second time. “The light of a city on a hill can not be hidden. America is that city and you are that light.”
The crowd responded enthusiastically to Kasich’s speech as he closed. Kasich and his team are hoping that enthusiasm will start to spread states beyond his native Ohio, but most pundits remain doubtful.
That skepticism does not bother John Kasich one bit.