Gov. John Kasich’s run for president is uncertain but he certainly looked and sounded like a candidate at the Detroit Economic Club on Monday, where he told the story of Ohio’s comeback with yours truly at the helm.
“A great leader figures out how to bring people together. My mom used to say to me, ‘Johnny, it’s okay to compromise but don’t compromise your principles.’ I’ve been involved in more negotiations, more compromises, more conclusions to the betterment of what happens in our country when we work together,” Kasich told the crowd of nearly 300 in Cobo Center in downtown Detroit. “We all have to stop the fighting and stop the division and get ourselves into a position where we begin to solve problems with legitimate compromise that makes America stronger.”
In his 25 minute speech, Kasich talked about leadership, veterans, corporate taxes, human services and his personal faith and values.
“I’m doing my very best to make sure every single person in our state feels included, feels as though they have a stake, feels as though they have hope,” Kasich said.
Kasich came across as blunt and relaxed. He even twice touched on immigration reform, saying the country has to stop fighting and just solve the problem.
“I don’t favor citizenship but I wouldn’t take it off the board because what are we going to do? Keep yelling at one another and for how long?” he said.
Standing ideological ground and being afraid to speak about tough issues doesn’t help America, Kasich said. “Namby pamby politically poll driven, focus group driven decision making — no thank you.”
During the audience question and answer period, Kasich said he is seriously considering a run for president and he’ll decide when he’s ready.
“I feel compelled to deliver a message like this. If they like it, great. If they don’t like it, I’ll play more golf,” Kasich said. “If it makes sense, I’ll do it. But it’s got to make sense to me and to my family and to my friends.”
The Detroit Economic Club, founded in 1934 as forum for political and policy debate, is not for pikers. The club has hosted every U.S. president since Richard Nixon and has been recently visited by Republicans Mitt Romney, Rand Paul and Jeb Bush.
The economic club is a Michigan political rite of passage and a signal that you’re serious about policy, said Susan Demas, editor and publisher of Inside Michigan Politics.
After the luncheon speech, Kasich was scheduled to take a walking tour of Detroit and attend a reception at the Oakland County Republican Party, which is home to wealthy, verdant suburbs packed with GOP donors.
The Detroit trip, paid for by the Ohio Republican Party, is the most recent of Kasich’s out-of-state travels as he weighs whether to make his second run for the GOP nomination for president. Kasich, who ran for six months in 1999 before withdrawing and endorsing George W. Bush, has traveled to early primary states — New Hampshire and South Carolina — as well as Arizona, West Virginia, Maine, New York, the Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Utah.
Most of his out-of-state trips in the past five months have been paid for by Balanced Budget Forever, a political organization formed by Kasich supporters to enable him to push for a federal constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget.
He flew to Detroit on the private plane owned by friend and political supporter Mark Kvamme. Joining Kasich in Detroit were Kristi Tanner of JobsOhio, Ohio GOP Chairman Matt Borges, Jai Chabria and Jim Lynch of the governor’s office, lobbyist Robert Klaffky, and former Ohio House speaker JoAnn Davidson.
Demas said Kasich has been flying largely under the radar in Michigan. “I think he has some respect. He seems to be regarded similar to our governor, Rick Snyder — pro-business but not as confrontational as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.”
Demas said Kasich and Snyder are both seen as long-shot presidential contenders who may make the short list for running mate or be appointed to a cabinet position if the Republicans win the White House.
Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of the Cook Political Report, said, “I have no idea whether Kasich will get in or not. And my guess is that he isn’t sure either. However, he is doing the kind of things that keep his options open. It isn’t too late. For many Republican officeholders, 2016 seems to be the year of ‘well, why not me.’”
Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said the window of opportunity is quickly closing for Kasich and others.
“He’d better get busy if he wants to become a candidate. He’ll have tens or hundreds of millions to raise and a giant political organization to put together—and loads of other presidential candidates have been snatching up the top staffers and generous donors for many months.”
Kasich’s trip to Michigan drew criticism from national Democrats.
“Kasich has proved that when it comes to economics, he is no different than any other Republican. Doling out tax cuts for the wealthiest and pushing the burden onto the middle class, while gutting education and rejecting investments in infrastructure,” said Democratic National Committee spokesman Jason Pitt.
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