Gov. John Kasich (R) of Ohio sounds like a man ready to run for president again.
Over lunch Friday with reporters, Governor Kasich touted “a good résumé – not just saying, but accomplishing.” The question is whether he can raise the money. The last time Kasich ran, in the 2000 cycle, the campaign didn’t go anywhere, and he dropped out early.
This time may be different. “I think we are at this point optimistic that we’ll have the resources to move forward,” Kasich said at the luncheon, hosted by The Christian Science Monitor. He didn’t put a timeline on his decision.
One point in his favor: He comes from the ultimate bellwether state in presidential politics, with 18 essential electoral votes. “You can’t be president if you don’t win Ohio,” he says.
So if he does run, where is his niche in the expected large Republican field?
“It is experience,” says an energetic Kasich, laying out his résumé: a stint in the state legislature, then 18 years in the US House, including six years as Budget Committee chair – “not just talking about a balanced budget, but also being one of the architects to achieve it.” And he touts “extensive national security experience,” from 18 years on the House Armed Services Committee.
After a 10-year hiatus, Kasich got back into politics, defeating incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland (D) in 2010. Now, after four years in office and fresh off reelection last November, he rattles off statistics: The state’s budget is “structurally balanced,” he says, with “a $2 billion surplus, largest tax cuts in the country, credit strong. We’re up 340,000 jobs.”
It hasn’t always been easy, including a run-in with unions. “I had 28 percent approval in my first term,” he says. “You have to work at it to do that badly.”
But Kasich is also a bit of a maverick, in the “compassionate conservative” vein. When most Republican governors were turning away federal money to expand Medicaid, which provides health care for the poor, he welcomed it.
Kasich, who is religious, laughs at suggestions by some Republican governors that he’s “hiding behind Jesus.”
“I’m really not hiding behind anybody. I’m right out here at this lunch, so I don’t have anybody protecting me here,” says a bemused Kasich. “But let’s just get to the nub of Medicaid, OK? First of all, the last Republican that I can think of who expanded Medicaid was Ronald Reagan.”
“If other people don’t want to take the money, that’s up to them,” he continues. “But I’ve got money I can bring home to Ohio.... It’s the money of the people who live in my state.”
Once again, the issue of “breaking out” in a crowded GOP field comes up. “You know what, I’m very free in my life, and I’m going to do my best to talk to people about the things I care about,” Kasich says.
He talks about going to New Hampshire, home of the first primary, and expressing his concern about the “drift of the country.”
“There’s two kinds of relationships that really need to be healed,” Kasich says. First is relationships with allies – Europe, Central Europe, the Middle East. “I think those relationships have eroded over time, not just with [President] Obama, but over time,” he says.
The second area that needs “healing,” he says, is relations between Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill.
“America’s inability to solve problems makes us weaker,” Kasich says. “It hurts our kids and our families, and it also sends a message around the world that America is losing its strength.”
On the issue of immigration, Kasich projected the flexibility of an experienced legislator from an earlier era. He’s willing, for example, to contemplate a path to citizenship for those in the United States illegally. “I‘d prefer not to have a path to citizenship,” he says, but he won’t take it off the table.
Kasich is also asked the “gay wedding” question. As in, if a gay friend invited him to his wedding, would he attend? “My biggest question [would be], ‘What time is it?’ ” he says. “There’s a time to celebrate with people.”
Kasich continues: “I am for marriage defined as between a man and a woman. If the Supreme Court changes that, those changes have to be respected.”