- Laura A. Bischoff Columbus Bureau
Once again eschewing a teleprompter for a big speech, Ohio Gov. John Kasich spoke for 43 minutes and covered everything from the birth of his twin daughters to the Great Depression to terrorism to Ohio tax cuts.
Well into the speech he also confirmed what everyone knew: he’s running for president.
Saying he is tested, experienced and needs no on-the-job-training, Kasich on Tuesday officially launched his bid for the GOP nomination for president, becoming the 16th major Republican candidate to jump into the fray.
Although he rambled at times, the 2,000 supporters packed into the Ohio Union didn’t seem to mind, enthusiastically embracing his signature line: “I have decided to run for president of the United States.”
He continued: “I have to humbly tell you, and I mean humbly tell you, that I believe I do have the skills and I have the experience,” the second-term Ohio governor said. “I have the experience and the testing, the testing which shapes you and prepares you for the most important job in the world.”
Kasich, 63, painted himself as a man of big ideas who will put policy over politics and doggedly pursue fixes to tough problems. He pointed to his improbable campaign wins over incumbents at the state and federal level, his involvement in balancing the federal budget in the mid-90s, his efforts to cut federal defense spending and Ohio’s fiscal turnaround on his watch.
“They said it couldn’t be done and we proved them wrong,” he repeated throughout his speech.
Kasich appeared on stage with his wife Karen and their twin daughters, Emma and Reese, while supporters lined the railings and packed the floor of the three-story atrium in the Ohio Union. Ohio State University said the campaign will be billed roughly $40,000 for the building rental.
Kasich gave few details on what he would do as president, other than to say he wants to improve the military and balance the federal budget.
“You want job creation, you balance the books. Am I right? You balance the books,” Kasich said. “And if I’m president — or maybe I should say when I am president — I will promise you that my top priority will get this country on the path to fiscal independence, strength. And we will rebuild the economy of this country because creating jobs is our highest moral purpose and we will move to get that done.”
When Kasich first took office in January 2011, state revenues had fallen steeply, the unemployment rate was 9.4 percent and Ohio’s rainy day fund stood at 89 cents. During Kasich’s watch state revenues rebounded, Republicans pushed through nearly $5 billion in tax cuts and the rainy day fund now stands at $2 billion while the unemployment rate is 5.2 percent.
Kasich also noted how he put more money into treating mental illness and drug addiction, delivering services for developmentally disabled Ohioans and providing health care for the working poor.
He said he proved his doubters wrong by turning around the Ohio economy.
“I said not only will we get this budget balanced but we’ll cut taxes and they’re like ‘Are you kidding me? There’s no way we can do that,’” Kasich recounted without acknowledging that every Ohio budget must be balanced as mandated by the state’s constitution. “So, we went to work. We didn’t really have to slash things. We just had to use a 21st century formula, improve things, innovate them, make a better product at a lower price.”
Former state senator Nina Turner, a Cleveland Democrat, said Kasich is glossing over the massive cuts in state aid he pushed onto local schools and governments.
Turner, chair of political engagement for the Ohio Democratic Party, said, “The rainy day fund? Don’t even get me started — $2 billion in the rainy day fund. Wonderful thing but it is raining on the cities and the townships. Talk to any mayor Republican or Democrat in the state of Ohio, most mayors will tell you that those state and local government cuts across Gov. Kasich’s budgets have hurt them.”
State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miami Twp., who attended the announcement, said: “I thought Gov. Kasich did a great job articulating how he led Ohio’s comeback. As president, he would be able to lead America to a similar comeback, creating jobs and opportunity for all.”
Kasich said he can take a page from his Ohio playbook and use it in the White House.
“I’m going to take what we have learned here in the heartland, that band of brothers and sisters that I work with everyday, and we are going to take the lessons of the heartland and straighten out Washington, D.C., and fix our country.”
Kasich said he is ready to prove wrong those who say he can’t win.
Dozens of protesters demonstrated on High Street across from the Ohio Union, holding signs decrying Kasich’s stance on abortion, union rights, closure of state developmental disability centers and other topics.
Kasich makes the point that Ohio has regained the 352,000 private sector jobs lost in the Great Recession but his critics note that when counting public and private sector jobs, Ohio still hasn’t recovered all its losses.
“Ohio needs 22,900 jobs to return to the number of jobs we had when the recession started. To put that in context, the state has added only 26,800 jobs in the last six months. The nation and most other states regained the jobs lost in the recession last year,” said Policy Matters Ohio in a report issued last week.
“Job loss, whether it’s the loss of a teacher, firefighter, or an autoworker, hurts families and our economy,” said Hannah Halbert, a researcher with the liberal think tank.
As the governor of Ohio — a swing state no Republican president has ever lost — Kasich is better positioned now than he was in 1999 to raise the necessary hundreds of millions of dollars, garner headlines and interviews from national media outlets and earn invitations to key political venues. New Day for America, a political organization formed in April to help Kasich run, raised $11.4 million in just two months.
Still, most experts consider his campaign a long-shot. Real Clear Politics polling average shows Kasich with 1.5 percent, which places him outside the top 10 who would qualify for the first GOP primary debate in Cleveland next month.
Although Kasich just made his official announcement, he has been traveling to key primary and early caucus states and to other states to boost his name recognition, win over Republican voters and raise money. Since November, Kasich has made more than two dozen trips to at least 20 different states.
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said it’s crucial for Kasich to make the top 10 cut for the Fox News debate in Cleveland on Aug. 6.
“Close to a third of the Republicans who vote in primaries and caucuses can be categorized as moderate-conservatives who look for a winner,” Sabato said in an email. “Well, you can make a pretty good case that the popular, moderate-conservative governor of super-swing state Ohio is electable. That’s Kasich’s rationale for nomination. But will he really get a fair shot at making that case? If he’s not in the debates, he won’t.”
Ohio State University political science professor Paul Beck said visibility is Kasich’s major challenge. That and staying away from some of the “off-script” and “off-the-cuff” comments that have alienated some toward him in the past.
If he does that, said Beck, “I think his tell-it-like-it-is approach will be attractive to many voters.”