John Kasich may be the presidential candidate America is looking for. But the question is whether they’ll find him.
The Ohio governor is a middle of the road Republican from the nation’s middle. Should he decide to run, he’ll bring to the campaign qualities that should appeal to voters weary of Washington gridlock and partisanship: Pragmatism and a “willingness to solve problems with legitimate compromise that makes America stronger,” as Kasich described his governing philosophy to the Detroit Economic Club earlier this week.
He also talked about values — and not the ones being mouthed by the GOP’s hard right. The governor says he stands for personal responsibility, teamwork, family and faith.
He wears his faith on his sleeve, but before you place him on the religious right stack, here’s how Kasich described his core belief: “Love your neighbor.” He then laid out a reprise of compassionate conservatism: meeting the needs of the poor today while preparing them to take care of themselves tomorrow.
His speech was absent vitriol and stridency, offering instead the mix of economic conservatism and social moderation the majority of American voters identify with, and urging common sense rather than ideological solutions to divisive issues such as immigration reform. “We don’t have enough buses to ship 12 million people across the border,” he said.
Kasich has a resume to match his message. Under five years of his leadership, Ohio has built a $2 billion budget surplus while cutting taxes by $3 billion and adding 350,000 jobs. He won re-election last fall by 30 percentage points, picking up 26 percent of the minority vote and nearly two-thirds of women. For those who say the nation’s changing demographics disadvantage the GOP, Kasich would seem to have found an answer.
He’s appealed to Ohio’s African-American voters, who helped deliver the state twice for President Barack Obama, by “doing my best every single day to make sure every single person in my state feels included.” In practice, that meant forming one of the first state commissions on police/community relations.
Perfect man for the times, right? And yet Kasich, who also has 18 years of congressional experience, during which he became a leading hawk on government waste, hasn’t broken into the top tier of GOP candidates, suffers from low name recognition and on paper looks like a paler carbon of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. (When Bush spoke at the econ club this winter, he drew a crowd of 600; Kasich attracted half that.)
With 21 Republicans and counting eying a run, it’s tough for someone outside the Washington spotlight to get heard.
That could change should Kasich actually announce he’s in the race — he won’t say when that decision will come. He’s enormously popular in Ohio, which held the key to the last few presidential elections. That will be hard to ignore.
The National Journal described Kasich as the contender everyone overlooks. But a candidate willing to resist the primary pull to his party’s extremes, stand in the middle and say, “Let’s stop fighting and we can all win,” could get some traction amongst a partisan-weary electorate.