If Ohio Gov. John Kasich Runs For President, He Could Be A Wildcard

Jun 5, 2015
Originally published on June 5, 2015 6:47 pm
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Transcript

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No Republican has won the White House without winning Ohio, and that's one reason it's worth paying attention to John Kasich. He is the governor of that state and he's weighing whether to get into the already crowded 2016 presidential field. NPR's Don Gonyea caught up with Kasich in New Hampshire.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: A conversation with Governor Kasich can be unpredictable. He's friendly and effusive one moment, prickly and combative the next. We make very brief small talk prior to our interview. Before we sit down, I mention our last conversation in the early days of his governorship four years ago. His response, still off-mic - why'd you disappear? Then this.

JOHN KASICH: Well, you know, the interesting thing is, what you guys do is you build-up all these national Washington guys 'cause your life is easy by covering them, but you don't get out and cover anybody else. And then as a result of that, you pump them up in the polls.

GONYEA: But here we are in New Hampshire with Kasich.

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GONYEA: This is at an event in Portsmouth. The governor gets right to his record.

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KASICH: Over the period of the four years, we went from eight billion in the hole to two billion in the black, the largest tax cuts in America, bar none.

GONYEA: Kasich served nine terms as a Congressman. Chairman of the House Budget Committee, he helped broker a balanced budget deal with President Clinton. Then came a job with the now-defunct investment bank Lehman Brothers and a stint as a Fox News host. Now he's in his second term as governor and looking at what would be his second White House run. He ran in '99 but dropped out quickly and endorsed George W. Bush. Yesterday in New Hampshire, he pondered the idea of facing another Bush.

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KASICH: Now, I didn't think I was going to be back up here again because frankly, I thought that Jeb was just going to suck all the air out of the room, and it just hasn't happened. No hit on Jeb. No hit on you, Jeb.

GONYEA: Kasich would likely appeal to a lot of the same voters as Jeb Bush - two governors from two important battleground states. No Republican has ever captured the White House without carrying Ohio, but Kasich downplays that.

KASICH: It's how you connect and talk to people in these other states that matters for me.

GONYEA: Kasich's first year as governor, 2011, was tumultuous. Like Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin, he took on public employee unions. Massive protests followed, but he signed a law limiting their collective bargaining rights. Then came defeat when voters overturned the measure.

KASICH: I was never daunted with that. You win some, you lose some.

GONYEA: Kasich's approval rating plummeted to 28 percent. In subsequent years, he tacked to the center, at least on some issues. He angered many conservatives by agreeing to take federal dollars to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, something most Republican governors have refused to do.

KASICH: Well, everybody has to do what they want to do, but for me because we brought Ohio money back, we now have an ability to treat the mentally ill, many of whom are in our prisons and jails.

GONYEA: He says the working poor have benefited as well. As for Kasich's once abysmal approval rating, it's now at 55 percent, and he coasted to re-election. In Portsmouth yesterday, one audience member asked if he thinks Congress should investigate the Clinton Foundation. Kasich said he didn't want talk about the Clintons.

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KASICH: Let me say this - anything that I say now about the Clintons is going to be everywhere, OK? When I'm talking about the Clintons, I'm not talking about me.

GONYEA: But then as someone said started to ask a different question, he broke his own rule.

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KASICH: Let me just - I want to say one thing about the Clintons, just one thing. We are not going to beat Hillary Clinton on the basis of Benghazi and emails and the Clinton Foundation. You know how you win? You better have a bigger vision as to how Americans feel that America's going to be better for them.

GONYEA: It's the kind of answer that could make him a wild card in the GOP field. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Manchester. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.