Finley: Gov. John Kasich, to voters: Pick a ‘Dodge’

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

John Kasich looks like the right sort of man, and certainly these look like the right sort of times for someone of his record and resume.

But the Ohio governor and other establishment candidates from both parties in the presidential race are being washed over by populist waves that so far are lifting Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Bernie Sanders to heights few sucn non-traditional hopefuls have ever reached.

And yet Kasich feels good about where he sits.

“I’m kind of a conservative populist,” he says in an interview after a speech on national security at Lawerence Tech Monday. “I’m not enamored of special interests. I’m positive in what I think can be done.”

And he understands why voters are resonating to candidates who shout platitudes and declare themselves as loudly and proudly outside the political mainstream.

“People don’t think they’re getting a fair shake,” Kasich says. “They can’t get a job. They can’t get a raise. They’re tired of the double-talk. They’re looking around for answers. They want their concerns recognized. And they’re skeptical of anyone in office.”

So his challenge is to demonstrate that an empathetic insider is best equipped to provide both the answers and the results.

“I’ve been involved in fixing a lot of things, and those things have gotten fixed,” he says.

Governors, he said, “have to demonstrate you can do a good job. Lots of things pop up, lots of crises have to be dealt with. It gives you broad experience.”

Voters, he believes, will in the end pick proven leadership over bravado.

“Whenever my father needed a new car, he always looked around,” Kasich says. “But he always bought a Dodge.”

Kasich presents himself as the political version of a Dodge, not flashy, but a trusty model that promises to get you where you want to go without running off the road.

He’s in his second term as governor and earlier in his political career spent eight years in the U.S. House. In just five years, he’s turned Ohio’s $8 billion budget shortfall into a $2 billion surplus. He’s made solid progress in fixing the state’s schools, particularly in urban areas. As a congressman in the 1990s, he played an instrumental role in the rare balancing of the federal budget.

Most of his policies, including his budget proposals, have enjoyed bipartisan support in Ohio. In that swing state, Kasich won reelection by 30 percentage points.

After eight years of presidential incompetence, divisiveness and indifference, he believes Americans are hungry for leadership rooted in results.

He promises to tilt the balance of power back toward the states, shifting resources and decision making closer to the people. “Empower states and hold them accountable,” he says.

For the early campaign, Kasich is concentrating on New Hampshire, where the latest polls have him second behind Trump. In Iowa, he’s running sixth or seventh.

He has no intention of following rivals, such as Jeb Bush, in trying to out-Trump Trump.

When voters come to the reality that a sporty roadster is a lot of fun to dream about, but not so practical to drive every day, he’s counting on them to find their way back to the Dodge dealership.


Follow Nolan Finley at, on Twitter at @nolanfinleydn, on Facebook at nolanfinleydetnews and watch him at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays on "MiWeek" on Detroit Public TV, Channel 56.