Kasich stresses importance of Mich. to campaign

Leonard N. Fleming, and Candice Williams

Ohio Gov. John Kasich on Wednesday began a week-long campaign bus tour of Michigan in his uphill battle to win the Republican president nomination and showed confidence that he can continue his bid.

Appearing at a town hall meeting with about 100 local residents in Grand Blanc, Kasich told The Detroit News as he walked in that he is not thinking of leaving the race and respects the importance of Michigan and his own state.

“Michigan is important to us,” Kasich said at the Genesys Conference and Banquet Hall. “Of course then after that it’s Ohio, which is really important for us. So we’re moving forward. We had a pretty good night last night, better than expected.

When asked if he was feeling any pressure to drop out of the race, Kasich scoffed and said dismissively: “pressure?”

Republican presidential candidate Ohio Gov. John Kasich, speaks at a Central Mississippi Republican Party fundraising dinner in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, March 1, 2016.

The Ohio governor constantly joked with the crowd about the state’s college rivalries and even heaped praise on Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo. At one point in a question about taxes, he challenged a voter if he wanted the “truth” or be told what he wanted to hear. And he insisted that he can work with both sides of the aisle to get things done.

Kasich said Washington needs a leader who can create jobs and work with Congress, even saying that although he may not agree with the likes of Congressional Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi, he could work with her and be civil for the sake of getting things done. Then he quipped to some laughter, “I hate to sound like an adult.”

At one point he stated to the crowd, “compromise is OK” without violating your principles.

Faced with a question about how he would address climbing college tuition costs, he said he wants to help but also encourage universities to curtail spending.

Kasich scoffed at a question following his town hall that he could be taking votes away from candidates like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, saying, “maybe he’s taking votes away from me.”

“Look, it gets down to can we win Florida, do I win Ohio?” Kasich said. “That’s what we’ll see. Cause if you can’t win your own state then I don’t know how you move on.”

Speaking of candidates such as Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Kasich said: “These guys have been engaging in all these attacks … personal attacks now for about a week, and it just didn’t work.”

Responding to a question from the audience, Kasich said he would be in favor of dealing with the Internal Revenue Service but scoffed at the idea of getting rid of the agency — something U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has urged.

“I believe in a flatter, simpler tax,” he said.

Kasich warned that it would be a tough fight but he is willing to work with both Democrats and Republicans to get it done.

“But that doesn’t mean we don’t push for it or overcome the special interests,” he said.

Patty Williams, 43, of Grand Blanc, is still undecided but came to hear Kasich with her two teenage daughters because she heard nice things about the governor.

“He does seem more like a down-to-earth real person like all of us,” she said. “I guess I’m still thinking, kind of watching what’s happening.”

When asked whom she will support, she said, probably not Kasich.

“I guess he just didn’t wow me,” she said. “Right now, I’m leaning toward Rubio. I guess he has more of a fighting chance, and I like what he has to say.”

Linda Tedrich, 61, of Benton, said after attending her first-ever town hall meeting she is “leaving with more respect for him (Kasich) and what he could possibly do for our country.”

She was going to put her support behind Carson but now Kasich may be the choice.

Admitting that she’s “on the fence, but as of right now, I would say I would vote for him.”

At a Wednesday evening event in Warren, Kasich shared personal stories and told of his mother's Croatian background before speaking on issues of budget balancing, welfare and bipartisanship.

“We have to be in position where we can get people to work together,” Kasich told an audience of 250 people at the Ukrainian Cultural Center.

Kasich said if he were president he would do his part in the conflict in Ukraine.

“They’re just fighting for their freedom,” he said. “For some reason, our government ...doesn’t want to provoke the Russians. They say: Let the Ukrainians do it on their own.

“I’ve made it clear... I will arm the Ukrainians with lethal defensive weapons so they can defend themselves. There would be no hesitation in getting that done."

One audience member asked for his thoughts on welfare.

“You’ve got to connect the benefits to something that allows them to rise,” Kasich said of welfare recipients. “You can’t have a system where they lose more than what they gain.”

The former congressman also took time during his hour-long talk to speak to young people in the audience and offered words of encouragement to a woman who said she had lost her teen son to suicide.

Among those in Wednesday night’s audience were Clinton Township resident Ann Acierno, who attended with Sterling Heights resident Marge Chovich.

Acierno said she had previously listened to Kasich on television and liked what he had to say.

“He’s the only candidate that I really liked from the very beginning,” she said. “He’s the only one that’s normal. And he's not as political as the others. He seems like you can sit down with him and have a beer.”

Chovich said she is interested in U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, but she attended the event because she and Kasich are both Croatian.

“He’s a fine human being,” she said of the Ohio governor. “...I can see just by looking at him and the way he talks and conducts himself, he’s very trustworthy.”

lfleming@detroitnews.com

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Twitter: @leonardnfleming