John Kasich, the rise of the Republican ‘moderate’

AFP | John Kasich in New Hampshire on February 9, 2016

Ohio Governor John Kasich surged to second place in the Republican primary in New Hampshire on Tuesday as voters there embraced his message of bipartisanship and compromise.


Although he was probably aiming for first place, it’s still a promising start to the primaries for Kasich, 63, who has so far been largely overshadowed by the other Republican candidates in the race.

As recent history shows, you don’t need to win the New Hampshire primary to win the White House. President Barack Obama came in second in the state’s primary in 2008, as did former presidents George W. Bush in 2000 and Bill Clinton in 1992.

Kasich’s surprise second-place finish has been attributed to support from moderate Republicans as well as Independent voters, who embraced his message of bipartisanship and compromise. He won about 16 percent of the vote, coming in behind frontrunner Donald Trump, who took an impressive 35 percent.

The result came as a major boon for Kasich, who lacks the visibility and campaign financing of other candidates like Trump or former Florida governor Jeb Bush.

In the months leading up to the New Hampshire primary, Kasich took part in 106 town hall meetings across the state, listening to voter concerns and discussing his political platform.

During the gatherings, Kasich talked about his opposition to abortion (with exceptions in cases of rape, incest or when a mother’s life is in danger), as well as his belief in small government and his commitment to slashing taxes and overhauling the Internal Revenue Service.

'Not an establishment guy'

Kasich also called for greater cooperation between the Republican and Democratic parties, playing up his image as a political maverick. "I'm not an establishment guy, I'm sort of in a lane of my own," Kasich told CNN in New Hampshire earlier this week.

Widely considered the most centrist of his Republican rivals, Kasich has come under fire from conservatives over his position on a number of issues, including his 2012 decision to accept $13 billion under Obamacare to expand Medicaid in his state, as well as his more recent support of the Iranian nuclear deal.

Yet it is his atypical record, as well as his reputation as the popular two-term governor of a swing state, that has won him the support of more moderate voters, as well as endorsements from a number of editorial boards, including the New York Times and the Boston Globe.

“Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, though a distinct underdog, is the only plausible choice for Republicans tired of the extremism and inexperience on display in this race. And Mr. Kasich is no moderate,” the New York Times wrote in a January editorial.

“Still, as a veteran of partisan fights and bipartisan deals during nearly two decades in the House [of Representatives], he has been capable of compromise and believes in the ability of government to improve lives,” the editorial added.

Budget hawk

Kasich was born in the town of McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, on May 13, 1952, the son of a mailman and a post office worker mother. After completing high school, he enrolled at Ohio State University, where he graduated in 1974.

A few years later he won his first election to become the youngest-ever member of the Ohio State Senate at the age of 26. He then went on to win a seat in the US House of Representatives, where he would serve a total of nine terms from 1983 to 2001.

During the 18 years he spent in Congress, Kasich earned a reputation as a budget hawk, rising up the ranks to become chairman of the House Budget Committee. He also served as a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

After leaving Congress Kasich went into the private sector, working as a managing director at Lehman Brothers until the firm’s collapse in 2008. He was also the host of the FOX News television show, “From the Heartland with John Kasich,” from 2001-2007.

Kasich returned to politics in 2010, when he was elected the 69th governor of Ohio after defeating Democratic incumbent Ted Strickland. After a successful first term, he won re-election in 2014 with nearly 64 percent of the vote.

He declared his candidacy for the Republican nomination on July 21, 2015.

It is not, however, the first time Kasich has set his sights on the White House – he ran a brief campaign in 1999 before abandoning the idea five months later and endorsing then Texas governor George W. Bush, who eventually won the presidency.

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