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Lansing — Ohio Gov. John Kasich said Tuesday Michigan will be a “critical” state for him to win in next year’s Republican presidential primaries if he decides to join the crowded White House field.

“For those who do or don’t like me, you’re going to see me a lot in Michigan,” Kasich said to a small group of members of the Small Business Association of Michigan. “I consider Michigan to be a critical state.”

Kasich later told reporters that Michigan’s March 8 presidential nominating contest comes early enough in the primary calendar to factor into whether he can win the GOP nomination.

“This is a great place for me to be because I think Michigan and Ohio are just so similar,” Kasich said.

Kasich was in Lansing on Tuesday to get introduced to Michigan Republicans and meet privately with Gov. Rick Snyder and GOP legislators. He attended a meet-and-greet with Ingham County Republicans Tuesday evening in Mason.

The blunt-speaking and sometimes prickly Ohio governor brushed off questions about what separates him from the dozen other Republican presidential candidates.

“I play my best golf when I don’t even know what my score is,” Kasich told one Lansing business owner who attended the event. “So why would I worry about the rest of the field? Why don’t I just get out and tell you who I am and what I think?”

Kasich emphasized his resume, which includes 18 years in Congress, more than four years as governor of Ohio, private-sector work at the now-defunct investment banking firm Lehman Brothers and a stint as a Fox News host. Kasich was chairman of the U.S. House Budget Committee in the mid-1990s when the Republican-controlled Congress and Democratic President Bill Clinton balanced the federal budget for the first time since 1969.

“We don’t have time anymore for on-the-job training. ... We’ve got to be serious about changing the country,” Kasich said. “We have to have people that have been putting the ball in the basket. I just think it’s that simple, whether I run or not.”

Lansing resident Tom Truscott attended the event, describing himself as a longtime fan of Kasich. He attended with his son, John Truscott, a Lansing public relations executive and Republican political consultant.

“I like you because if the Republicans are going to win the election, they must win Ohio and they must win Florida,” said Tom Truscott, a retired Potterville teacher and football and basketball coach.

Tom Truscott said the GOP field of past and present governors, senators and aspiring politicians needs to be thinned.

“And if I was chair of the Republican Party, as coach, I would go around and say ‘You’re not running, you’re not running, you’re not running,’ and I would put a team together that can win Ohio and can win Florida and has legislative background and executive background,” Truscott said.

Kasich jokingly later asked John Truscott: “So is your father going to run for anything?”

“State historian,” John Truscott replied.

John Truscott, who was former Gov. John Engler’s press secretary, said he has not decided who he’ll support for president.

“I like what I heard. I like the plain talk,” Truscott said of Kasich.

In April, Kasich delivered a keynote speech to the Detroit Economic Club, toured downtown Detroit buildings owned by Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert and attended a reception with Oakland County Republicans in Bloomfield Hills.

Kasich arrived in Lansing midday just as billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump was launching his bid for the presidency.

Speaking to reporters after the event, Kasich said Tuesday his decision on whether to run for president would come “relatively soon.”

“I’m not going to do this if I don’t think I can win,” Kasich told a reporter. “I mean, it’d be no reason to do it. We don’t want to waste anybody’s time. ... But I will tell you, things are looking pretty darn good.”

Kasich sidestepped a question about whether former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s day-old candidacy would cut into his voter and donor base within the GOP establishment ranks.

“I literally just have to tell people who I am and they’ve got to judge,” Kasich said. “I don’t look at voters like well these are ones I can get, and these are ones I can’t get. I’ve never thought that way in my entire political career and I’m not starting now.”

clivengood@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3660

Twitter.com/ChadLivengood

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