John Kasich Begins Seemingly Quixotic Presidential Bid

Ohio Governor John Kasich looks good on paper, but his campaign seems as though it's unlikely to get out of the starting gate.

John Kasich

Ohio Governor John Kasich became the sixteenth Republican to enter the race for President today, but despite a resume that should arguably put him near the front of the race, it’s unclear whether he’ll even be able make out of the gate:

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gov. John R. Kasich, a blunt-spoken and unorthodox Republican who bucked his party by expanding Medicaid under President Obama’s health care law and says politicians must “reach out and help those who live in the shadows,” announced Tuesday that he was joining his party’s long list of candidates for president.

Mr. Kasich, 63, became the 16th prominent Republican to enter the 2016 field. As a two-term governor in a critical swing state — no candidate since John F. Kennedy in 1960 has won the White House without winning Ohio — he is a credible candidate, though his late entry means he has catch-up work to do.

“I have decided to run for president of the United States,” he told a crowd at Ohio State University, his alma mater. “I have the skills, and I have the experience. I have the experience and the testing — the testing that prepares you for the most important job in the world.”

Mr. Kasich had been toying with running for months. By Tuesday morning, the faux mystery surrounding his candidacy was officially over even before his speech. The student union hall at Ohio State was festooned with “Kasich for America” banners, volunteers milled about in bright red “Kasich for Us” T-shirts and hundreds of eager supporters waited in the hot sun to get inside the hall.

A onetime chairman of the House Budget Committee who led a successful effort to balance the federal budget when Bill Clinton was president, Mr. Kasich brands himself as a common-sense Midwesterner who can work with Democrats. His chief strategist, John Weaver, calls him “a rebel who can govern.” He will stress his national security credentials (he also served on the House Armed Services Committee) and spotlight what he calls his “Ohio story,” of jobs and economic recovery, boasting of the $2 billion surplus his state has amassed on his watch.

“I think if he catches fire, he will be very, very successful and one of the finalists,” said Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, who predicts Mr. Kasich will join Senator Marco Rubio of Florida as “one of the two guys who talks the most about the future, and innovation, and doing things differently.”

But Mr. Kasich is not nearly as well known as other candidates; polls show about 2 percent of Republicans back him. A critical early test for Mr. Kasich, analysts say, will be whether he can raise those numbers enough to land a spot in the Aug. 6 Republican debate in Cleveland, in his own backyard. But it may be too late; only the top 10 candidates in polling will make the cut.

“The first debate, to me, is the first primary,” said Matthew Dowd, the chief strategist for George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign. He views Mr. Kasich — along with Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, and Mr. Rubio — as the candidates who “have a real legitimate shot at winning the nomination.” But, Mr. Dowd said, “He needs to get on that stage.”

Kasich aides say they are not nearly as concerned with the debate as they are with the actual first primary in February, in New Hampshire, where independent-minded Republicans like the Ohio governor (and Senator John McCain of Arizona, some of whose former advisers, including Mr. Weaver, now work for Mr. Kasich) have traditionally fared well.

Like Mr. McCain, Mr. Kasich is brusque and often combative — even his own aides describe him, euphemistically, as “impatient” — and questions about his temperament have dogged him throughout his career. (“Is John Kasich too big a jerk to be president?” a Cleveland newspaper columnist asked this month.) Pundits say his consultants will have to rein him in for a national campaign; Mr. Gingrich cautions against that.

“We’ll see if his style works,” he said. “It will be a huge mistake if he tries to become some consultant’s version of John Kasich.”

On paper, Kasich would seem to be an ideal candidate for President. Before becoming Governor, he had served for nearly two decades in the House of Representatives, including five years as the head of the House Budget Committee during which time he was one of the most visible public faces in the House of Representatives aside from Newt Gingrich himself. After an unsuccessful run for the White House in 2000 and retiring from Congress, Kasich spent some time in the private sector but kept a foot in the political world via frequent appearance on Fox News Channel as a commentator. In 2010, he was elected Governor when he narrowly defeated Democratic incumbent Ted Strickland in an election that also saw Republican gains in the state legislature that allowed Kaisch to push forward an economic agenda not dissimilar from the ideas that he had been talking about since he had been in Congress. Last year, he was overwhelmingly re-elected to a second term, including winning in ostensibly Democratic areas such as Cuyahoga County thanks both to his high approval numbers and a lackluster Democratic campaign. With a resume like that, Kasich is the kind of candidate that normally would be considered a natural front-runner for the Republican nomination. This would seem to be even doubly true given the importance of Ohio in the Presidential election, especially to any Republican candidate that would hope to win the 270 Electoral Votes needed to win the election.

The reality, of course, is quite different. Kasich is at or near the bottom of polling at the national level as well as in early primary states such as Iowa and New Hampshire. As of today, he would not qualify for either the first debate which will televised on Fox News Channel on August 6th or the September debate that will be televised on CNN. To some degree, of course, this is due to the fact that he doesn’t have quite the same name recognition as people like Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, or Rand Paul. Beyond that, though, it seems quite apparent that Kasich is perceived by the Republican base as being too moderate. Among other things, this is largely because of his decision to agree to the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, something that most Republican Governors have resisted. Beyond that, I would imagine that his prior association with House leadership, including people like fellow Ohio resident John Boehner, is something that is seen as a negative among the hard core right wing base of the party. Unless Kasich can overcome these perceptions, or find a way to appeal to more moderate Republicans, it’s hard to see his campaign going much of anywhere.

As NBC’s First Read points out, it may be hard for Kasich to do much anything given that all the media attention in the race is focused on one man:

If the two-term governor of all-important Ohio — with a 60% approval rating in his state — announces a presidential bid and no one hears it, did it really happen? That’s John Kasich’s challenge as he makes his White House run official today at 11:00 am ET amid all of the Donald Trump headlines. Trump leads nationally in another poll! Trump is running second in Iowa! The Des Moines Register wants Trump out of the race! Trump is still feuding with John McCain! And oh, Donald Trump just killed a guy with a trident! Yes, we made that last one up (it’s from “Anchorman”), but you get the point: It’s the Summer of Donald, and it’s become hard for the other GOP presidential hopefuls to break through. Remember that Scott Walker officially announced his presidential bid last week, and he barely broke through all the Trump news, at least nationally.

If Kasich can hold on until after the Trump Bubble breaks, assuming it ever actually does, then perhaps he can find a way to break through into a better position in the field. It doesn’t seem very likely, though. A candidate who starts out the race under 2% in the polls almost never becomes a contender for the nomination, and winning the nomination from such a starting position would require a campaign that was executed nearly flawlessly and  a somewhat sympathetic news cycle that allowed for a lot of free media time. That’s not likely to happen for John Kasich, though. We may see his name come up as a possible Vice-Presidential running mate, after all the Ohio factor would still be very important to whomever the Republican nominee was, but it’s exceedingly unlikely that he will be the nominee himself.

Photo via Reuters

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. grumpy realist says:

    Geez, can’t these guys do something else as a hobby?

    Needlepoint is always available.

  2. Mu says:

    The good news is, this guy might have a chance with the general electorate. Which he won’t get.

  3. Ron Beasley says:

    Kasich has one thing going against him – he may actually be sane.

  4. Modulo Myself says:

    A sane GOP would have three candidates–Bush, Kasich, and Jim Webb.

  5. gVOR08 says:

    @Mu: Yeah. I live in OH. He’s as much an ALEC, Koch tool as Walker, just not as dumb. Or apparently as well financed. But he’s presenting himself as a moderate, sensible Republican with appeal to independents and Dems. Hasn’t got a prayer in the GOP primaries. And that ain’t because of Trump.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    He’s running to be Jeb’s veep. Jeb to take Florida, Kasich to carry Ohio.

    The battle then would be over Virginia, New Hampshire and Colorado.

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:
  8. Scott F. says:

    All he has to do is proudly claim that all single mothers are whores and he’ll pop right up to the top in the polls.

    Easy-peasy. Trump has shown the way.

  9. Pete S says:

    I think his biggest problem is the 60% approval rating in his home state. That is just evidence for the base that he is afraid to tell the tough truths and make the hard decisions.

  10. C. Clavin says:

    When he ran in the 2000 election he called himself the “Indiana Jones” of the race.
    Indiana Jones
    Jenos Idanian
    Have you ever seen them in the same room at the same time?
    Just saying.

  11. JohnMcC says:

    @michael reynolds: They would be the Lehman Brothers Brothers! What a campaign slogan!

  12. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Scott F.: I think he already blew that chance.

    politicians must “reach out and help those who live in the shadows,”

    I mean, come on–where’s the value in that? They surely don’t vote (can homeless and in the shadows people even register?) and how are they going to give money to a campaign?

  13. grumpy realist says:

    Has anyone seen Kasich’s logo? Someone over at Balloon Juice mused about it making him think of strips of bacon.

  14. Tillman says:

    His chances remind me of Carol Moseley Braun’s in 2004.

  15. Devildog666 says:

    @gVOR08: Kasich is a real Frank Underwood. He’ll go in whatever direction gives him more power. The only reason he won big in Ohio is he had no real opposition.