The first question from his first Georgia audience was the tough one for John Kasich.
Mike Fitzgerald, chairman of the 6th District GOP, confessed that he’d been “grinding on this” during the Ohio governor’s entire Tuesday speech in Sandy Springs.
Fitzgerald noted that the Republican presidential possibility had expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. “Is that a sustainable model, long term?” the GOP activist asked.
Kasich, whose day in Georgia includes four stops, noted that his application of Medicaid expansion to prisoners and the mentally ill actually would save his state money in the long run.
The Ohio governor then fell back on biography. “I was chairman of the [House] budget committee when we balanced the federal budget,” he said. “I took Ohio from an $8 billion hole to a $2 billion surplus. If the federal government fools around and changes the formula, I’ve told the people in the state we’ll get out of it. I’m not going to let my budget be put into a hole.”
But in the end, Kasich told Fulton County Republicans sounded a note that Georgia Republicans have heard only rarely. “My choice in that decision was to ignore some of the most vulnerable people in our population. I’ve been criticized for this decision. Do you think it bothers me? It doesn’t,” the governor said.
Kasich’s post-Memorial Day appearance drew a nearly packed house, with an audience that included longtime GOP strategist Ralph Reed, former candidate for governor Karen Handel, and Secretary of State Brian Kemp, whose “SEC” March 1 primary next year has prompted a parade of GOP presidential candidates into the state.
“He’ll make a great president if we can get him that far,” said Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul, who once worked for the late Jack Kemp when Kemp was secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Kemp attempted to weld fiscal conservatism to a broader social conscience, and in his encounter with Georgia Republicans, Kasich tried to do the same.
“A lot of government is improvement. It’s not slashing and burning. It’s making things work better at a lower price,” the Ohio governor said. “Our party needs more compassion. We need more empathy,” he said. “Every once in a while, we’ve got to get people out of a ditch, so they can live their God-given potential and they change the world.”
Kasich made a brief allusion to the plight of Cleveland, where on Saturday a police officer was acquitted for his role in a fatal car pursuit of an unarmed African-American couple. Their car was riddled with 137 bullets.
“We’ve gone through tough times in Cleveland right now. People came through with a gold star,” Kasich said, after a third, relatively tranquil night. The governor reassured Republicans that they had made the right choice in picking Cleveland for the 2016 national political convention.
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