Ohio Governor Kasich Seriously Considers Presidential Run

Ohio Governor Kasich Seriously Considers Presidential Run
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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Republican Gov. John Kasich said Monday he'll decide soon whether to make a run for the White House in 2016, saying he knows he would need to act swiftly to raise money and organize a campaign.

He said he's trying to decide, “Is this what the Lord really wants me to do with my life?”

Even though he's a man who isn't afraid to talk about his Christian faith, he doesn't expect a direct answer from God, of course. The decision, Kasich said, falls more along the lines of “how do I see my responsibility at this point in my lifetime.”

With fundraising and grassroots-organizing looming, he acknowledged, “There are political realities in making the decision.”

Kasich is visiting early primary states — New Hampshire last week, South Carolina in April — to promote a federal balanced-budget initiative, long his passion, and tout his fiscal turnaround of Ohio since taking office in 2011.

“Talking about how we did our successes and reforms, as a whole, is what leadership is all about and is what is attracting people to what I have to say,” Kasich told the Tribune-Review.

Three months into his second term, Kasich has an impressive track record to show voters.

His “Blueprint for a New Ohio,” a $72 billion, biennial budget proposed to lawmakers in February, emphasizes Medicaid reforms, health care, human services and education. With a projected cost of $18.5 billion next year, Medicaid accounts for 52.8 percent of Ohio's operating budget.

During his first term, Kasich closed an $8 billion inherited shortfall and rebuilt the state's rainy-day fund from just 89 cents to $1.5 billion, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The nonprofit organization noted in an August report that Ohio, with more than 11 million residents, is “a diverse testing ground for health care reform.”

Now Kasich proposes cutting income taxes by 23 percent over two years but raising taxes on sales, tobacco, shale-gas drillers and some businesses. His plan talks about “transformational policies” to reduce joblessness, poverty, drug addiction and mental illness.

These issues “face everyone's communities, and I think that it is a place where Republicans sometimes fall short,” he said.

“When I look around and I see people who are mentally ill or drug-addicted in our prisons, or working people struggling to give their kids decent things, I want to try ... to help them be successful,” he said. “... But we can get stuck in just the idea of helping. We have to bring about personal responsibility.”

NOT JUST ANY GOVERNOR

If he runs, Kasich, 62, a native of McKees Rocks, could be pitted against fellow Republicans Jeb Bush, a former Florida governor; U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who is set to announce this week; U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida; and Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Chris Christie of New Jersey.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is the only declared GOP candidate.

A Real Clear Politics aggregate of five recent national polls shows Kasich with an average 1.7 percent support among Republicans.

Kasich said he sought counsel recently from a “friend” — he wouldn't say which one — who once ran for president: “I called to ask him his advice about when to jump in. He said, ‘You are the governor of Ohio. You have a good record. Decide it when you want to decide it.' ... I think that is good advice.”

He flirted with running in 2000, spending five months knocking on doors and eating casserole dinners before dropping out. George W. Bush, then a Texas governor, and Arizona Sen. John McCain outflanked him in money, support and media attention.

Visiting New Hampshire for the first time in 15 years, Kasich last week toured Nashua Community College's advanced manufacturing program and took part in a business roundtable. He met with Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan and voters.

He picked up on a bothersome theme: voters who “look at the federal government as the enemy.”

“They look at it as incompetent, and they are losing respect for it,” he said. “I mean, if you can't pay a veteran his benefits, or figure out how to guard the president, or the confusion surrounding Ebola — it is disturbing to me how our government has broken its trust with the people.

“The other part of that mistrust,” he said, “is that people want to believe they are included, and that there is a chance for them, and that we can be hopeful again.”

David Carney, a New Hampshire-based Republican strategist, said Kasich could bring “real passion and authenticity with a real-world record” to primary contests. His fiscal record “is unassailable,” Carney said, though he questions whether Kasich has enough time to raise the money needed for a run.

In South Carolina, strategist Chip Felkel calls Kasich “not just any governor.”

“He is one who has served in leadership in Congress and who is from a state that is incredibly important to both parties,” Felkel said. As CEOs of their states, he said, governors “deal with a myriad of issues, large and small — the same kinds of things that presidents deal with.”

‘HE'S GOT A STORY TO TELL'

Though many people consider Kasich a hard-charging politician who isn't afraid to break with his party over issues such as Medicaid expansion — “which has earned him both respect and disdain, depending on who you ask,” said Felkel — Kasich doesn't like people emphasizing his directness.

“Maybe people are hungry for authenticity,” he said. “I'm just a regular guy in a big job.”

Kasich stayed in state upon graduating from Ohio State University in 1974. He won a state Senate seat at age 26, then a U.S. House seat at age 30 in 1982. While in Congress, he worked his way up to chairman of the House Budget Committee, and chaired the House-Senate committee that wrote the welfare reform bill in 1996. He was chief architect of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.

“I never got the sense that Kasich saw his work on the budget committee as just a policy exercise in balancing the budget,” said Bruce Haynes, a Republican strategist in Washington. “Kasich wanted to change policy in a way that helped, inspired and empowered people. He's continued this in the governor's office, and I would expect that's his message in a presidential campaign, too.”

Kasich has “balanced the federal budget, he's governed one of our largest states, made his brand of ‘conservative' work, and he's got a story to tell,” Haynes said.

“His main challenge is finding a way to get it heard in a crowded room of candidates.” 

Salena Zito is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial page columnist. E-mail her at szito@tribweb.com
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