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East Lansing — Ohio Gov. John Kasich hasn't decided whether he'll run for president again in 2020, but the prominent Republican critic of President Donald Trump said Friday he is working to build a “rational” coalition and could campaign this year for candidates who want his help.

“If I’m going to pull my party to where it is more normal than it appears to be right now, that means there's some people I’m not going to support,” Kasich said during a keynote address at the Michigan Press Association’s annual conference in East Lansing.

Describing himself as a traditional conservative, Kasich bemoaned the increasing polarization of politics and society. But he expressed hope that most people don’t live at the “poles,” they live in the “vast” space in between.

Kasich has not endorsed any Michigan candidates but said he would be willing to help Lt. Gov. Brian Calley in his Republican gubernatorial run against three opponents — if asked.

“I would come up here and help him, because I like him, but I’m not up here to trash anyone else,” Kasich said, referring to Attorney General Bill Schuette, who is also running for governor and has been endorsed by Trump.

Calley is “like a breath of fresh air for me,” he added. “When I first met him, I liked him a lot.”

Calley endorsed Kasich in Michigan’s 2016 primary, which Trump won en route to his general election victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton. Kasich returned the favor in December of that year, penning a fundraising letter for Calley.

Schuette chaired former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s primary campaign in Michigan. State Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, helped organize Michigan for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

Kasich targeted Michigan in the weeks leading up to the primary but finished third in the GOP field with 24 percent of the vote, trailing Cruz at 25 percent and Trump at 36.5 percent.

“I love Michigan,” he said. “I believe if one of the candidates that had no chance would have dropped out, I would have won Michigan. It was very close, and it was moving in the right direction.”

While Kasich’s hour-long session echoed his folksy and free-wheeling campaign style from two years ago, he repeatedly said he does not know whether he will run for president again. It would require him to challenge Trump in the GOP primary or run as an independent, a possibilityy he has downplayed.

I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said. “I don’t know. This is now, the president campaign is in 2020.”

Jeff Timmer, a Michigan consultant who helped lead Kasich's state campaign in 2016, said the governor still has “some thinking” to do about 2020.

“I think he brings a voice to the political debate that’s very much needed,” Timmer said.

Kasich has been demonized by some Republicans, he acknowledged, because he expanded Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act in Ohio and supports “reasonable gun control.”

But the Democratic Party is moving away from the middle as well, Kasich said.

“If you’re a Democrat and you try do something reasonable and it doesn’t get approved by Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, you’re out of luck,” he said. “If this is where we’re headed, we’re headed toward a more divided country. But is that where I think we're going? I don't.”

joosting@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3662

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