Ohio Governor John Kasich is an intriguing possibility for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. He is currently playing coy about a campaign, but carefully leaves the door open.
Kasich, 62, is the grandson of Czech and Croatian immigrants, a fact that perhaps partly explains his position on the controversial issue of immigration. He recently said he was “not closed to” a path to citizenship for illegal aliens because, “Everybody in this country needs to feel like they have an opportunity.”
The son of a mailman, Kasich graduated from The Ohio State University. His background is about as different as possible from that of Mitt Romney, the wealthy, Ivy League-educated 2012 GOP nominee who is making noises about running again.
At 26, Kasich became the youngest person ever elected to Ohio's state Senate. He won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1982.
Kasich moved up the congressional ranks to become House Budget Committee chairman and a top lieutenant to Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. They sometimes confronted and other times compromised with Democratic President Bill Clinton to not only balance the federal budget, but produce a surplus.
As Kasich now notes, after he left the House in 2000, that surplus disappeared under a Republican President and Congress. His own brief bid for the White House that year fizzled.
Kasich worked as an investment banker for the ill-fated Lehman Brothers, which is a potential liability if he decides to seek the presidency in these populist days. He also did a stint as a commentator for Fox News and authored three books.
In 2010, Kasich won a close election for Ohio's governorship. He was reelected in a landslide last year despite having been reversed by voters on a law limiting collective bargaining rights of state employees.
Kasich boasts a strong economic record, including a big budget surplus, good job growth, and lower taxes. But he also defies conservative orthodoxy by strongly endorsing the Common Core education standards that some previously supportive GOP governors have abandoned under pressure and expanding Medicaid under Obamacare.
A divorced and remarried father of twin daughters, Kasich has a boyish persona and is almost irresistibly likable. He often looks somewhat disheveled and projects an image that is simultaneously pugnacious and compassionate.
There is kind of a Karl Malden aspect to Kasich. One can imagine him as a fighting Catholic priest carrying a tough love social gospel message from the waterfront into the halls of the powerful.
He recently declared, “Economic growth isn't an end into itself. Economic growth provides the means whereby we can reach out and help those who live in the shadows.”
“I will not turn my back on the mentally ill, who live under bridges too often of the time in this country,” he added. “I will not turn my back on the drug addicted and I won't turn my back on the working poor. I'm a believer that as a conservative that everybody has a God-given purpose and it is our job on a temporary basis to try to give them a chance to fulfill their God-given purpose by helping them.”
Kasich has been touring the country in a quasi-campaign calling for a constitutional convention to pass a balanced budget convention to the U. S. Constitution. The prospect of a convention is unsettling to some conservatives, however, since it could be hard to control.
Despite his solid fiscal credentials, Kasich will have a hard time winning over some far right conservatives for whom Common Core, a path to citizenship, and Medicaid expansion are deal-killers. But he is otherwise regular Republican on issues like abortion (he's pro-life) and gay marriage (he's for the traditional one man-one woman model).
When it comes to experience, Kasich boasts a broad background by having been a state legislator, a federal legislator, a governor, and in private sector business. The decision of his fellow Buckeye, U. S. Senator Rob Portman, not to run opens the path for Kasich from Ohio, a pivotal Electoral College state that he calls “a microcosm of America.”
Kasich is a feisty debater who backs down from nobody and has a speaking style that appeals to the average person on the street. His entry would make the GOP campaign more educational, fun, and interesting. He says he has plenty of time to decide, but the race is ramping-up rapidly.
So keep an eye on Kasich. Even if you disagree with him on some big issues, consider whether he may be the Republican best positioned to beat Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee.
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.