Kasich: “I’m a prince of light”

Thus far, we have attended three John Kasich town halls. While the setting and tone of each was different, I consistently walked away with the same impression of the candidate. He is a moderate Republican with a substantial record as both a governor and a congressman. In his stump, Kasich emphasizes the importance of pragmatism and bipartisanship. He is more policy-oriented than some of his opponents, particularly Cruz and Trump. However, he seems slightly less wonky when compared to Jeb Bush. His sense of humor is awkward and his interactions with his audience are surprisingly confrontational. On paper, Kasich seems like a well-prepared candidate. However, in person, he is sarcastic, impatient, and bad-tempered.

On Monday, January 18th, after leaving Ted Cruz’s town hall in Washington, NH, we drove to Hanover for Kasich’s economic town hall at Dartmouth’s Tuck Business School. During the hour-long wait for the candidate to arrive, the lecture hall filled up with students, professors, administrators, and other community members. There were multiple overflow rooms prepared for the event. They were unnecessary.

Finally, the candidate arrived with his wife and twin daughters. He was introduced by former Governor John Lynch of New Hampshire, the business school’s president, and a second-year student. Kasich took the microphone and gave a brief stump speech. He seemed tired and ready to finish his day of campaigning. He apologized for being late, but blamed it on his staff and played it off with a Bill Clinton joke. Kasich explained that he was excited to take a moment on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to reflect upon what has been done to make increase equality in this country and highlighted his record on criminal justice reform. Before taking questions, Kasich made an awkward reference to The Hobbit, but forgot the names of the main characters, so the whole thing quickly fell apart and he moved on to his concluding points.


Kasich at the Tuck Business School

Kasich took over thirteen questions from the audience. The other candidates we have seen often take no more than five or seven. Here are a couple standout moments from the Q&A portion:

  • One man in the audience, who had clearly attended other Kasich events, asked the candidate, if he will enact policies that are based in empirical fact as opposed to political expediency? The questioner cited a panel of climate scientists and when Kasich challenged him, he said “that’s what science says.” Kasich responded, “that’s what a panel says.”
  • In response to another question about how he will help the youth of America, he explained that he is running a positive campaign. He explained that he “is not a prince of darkness.” John Kasich is “a prince of light”
  • The second-to-last question was on campaign finance reform. Kasich gave a rambling, awkward answer that included statements like “give me money, whatever” and “I’m just a slob trying to make it through.” He did admit that he does think reforms need to be made to limit gerrymandering and the control of billionaires over elections.

The following Tuesday, January 26th, we attended two more Kasich town halls. The first was at Molly’s Tavern in New Boston, a small town outside Manchester. The space was small and no more than 40 people were in attendance. While waiting for the candidate to arrive I chatted with an older woman from the town. She told me that if Bloomberg enters the race as an independent and it’s between him, Trump, and Clinton, she would vote for Bloomberg. This could be the first election in her life in which she does not vote Republican. I asked her about her thoughts on other moderate Republicans. She explained that she likes Jeb Bush and thinks it is unfortunate how poorly he is doing. She attributes his low poll numbers to his lack of charisma, not his name. She thinks Marco Rubio is too young and is hesitant to elect another junior senator.

Kasich at Molly's Tavern

Kasich at Molly’s Tavern

The Ohio attorney general introduced the candidate, emphasizing their work on cleaning up the opioid crisis in Ohio. Kasich began his stump, which hit many of the same points as his Darmouth speech, but definitely emphasized his record on helping Ohioans with addiction. Here are of the interesting points from this town hall:

  • At one point, he compared something to “hitting a home run… that’s like a two-point conversion.” The audience groaned and Kasich reminded them, “I don’t pander.”
  • He turned to us and asked about our ages. He reminded us not to bully people, but then proceeded to judge one member of our team for being a Political Science major, asking, “what are you going to do with that?” (maybe become governor of Ohio… just a thought). He was relieved to learn Nora is also on the pre-med track.
  • A high school senior asked Kasich how he would make college more affordable and if you would try to find ways to cap high interest rates on student loans. He struggled to give her a specific answer, suggesting that the young woman consider a couple years at community college. He turned to his staff and asked, “can somebody make a note on the interest rate issue?” He explained, “I don’t have an answer to every question.”
  • One audience member asked why members of Congress who passed the Affordable Care Act are still allowed to hold office, since they approved legislation that the Supreme Court had previously deemed unconstitutional. A puzzled Kasich quickly responded, “I don’t think that happened.”
  • In his concluding remarks he made one last plea for votes. He explained, “if I get snuffed out in New Hampshire, it’s ballgame over.” This moment of transparency and honesty certainly played well with the crowd.

We left Molly’s Tavern to get to Kasich’s next event at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, NH. Even though we pulled out of the parking lot after the campaign bus, we waited for over half an hour before the event began. Finally, the president of the university and former Senator John Sununu introduced the candidate. “Seven Nation Army” came on over the loudspeakers and Kasich entered the room. Again, here are the highlights of this town hall:

  • He opened his stump by telling the members of the audience that we are each “made to do something special.” While he has always framed himself as the “optimistic” candidate, this was an oddly kind note for the typically sarcastic Kasich to take.
  • He also highlighted his pragmatic approach and tendency to work well with Democrats. According to Kasich, during his presidency, the Republicans will call the tune, but everyone will be included in the orchestra. He explained that he is not beholden to the Republican Party, because he “only takes orders from one person in the world, [his] wife.”
  • When someone asked him about campaign finance reform, he seemed more genuinely prepared and interested, explaining that he thinks the issue is “really significant.”

On the whole, Kasich clearly has a lot of experience as both an executive and legislator. He knows his policy and avoids clichés. However, unlike some of his opponents, he rarely has big applause lines. He doesn’t preach like Cruz or pander like Rubio. He lacks the charisma and interpersonal skills that make candidates successful in these small settings. After having seen Kasich’s performance in these three town halls, the lackluster nature of today’s New York Times endorsement is apt.

Not sure if we will find ourselves at another Kasich event next week, but keep reading to find out!

The “Cruzin’ to Victory” Tour

Ted Cruz’s January 18th town hall definitely lived up to its eye-roll worthy title: “Cruzin’ to Victory Tour – ‘This is The REAL Washington – NOT DC!’ Town Hall Meeting with Ted Cruz.” Held inside the Camp Morgan Lodge in Washington, NH, this Cruz campaign event continues to standout from the many town halls and rallies we have attended in the last two and a half weeks.

The Camp Morgan Lodge is in an isolated area of Washington, a very small town in southern New Hampshire. The lodge is a modest building at the end of a gravel road. However, inside, the set up was far from modest. Spotlights shone on the small stage and the backdrop, which read “TRUSTED” (with emphasis on the “TED”) and the words: “courageous,” “conservative,” and “consistent.” Country music and Bruce Springsteen was playing over loudspeakers and flashy, dramatic videos were playing on two large screens that flanked the stage.

Cruz delivering his stump at the Camp Morgan Lodge in Washington, NH.

Cruz delivering his stump at the Camp Morgan Lodge in Washington, NH.

As we waited for the event to begin, members of the media mingled with attendees. We watched a photographer from The New York Times interviewing New Hampshire voters. He was compiling a profile on Independent voters, using a polaroid camera to take their photos. Meanwhile, a group of locals sitting behind us were discussing their preferred candidates. One was confident he would vote for Cruz, mostly because his “website is the most comprehensive.”

At 11:40am, about a dozen members of the media filed into the room and set up their equipment. A Cruz staffer made sure that the aisle we were sitting on was clear. A local politician and a representative of the campaign both gave introductions for the candidate. We stood for the pledge of allegiance and for a prayer for America and its future leaders. Before Cruz entered the room, the promotional video played one last time. Finally, the back door opened and the senator entered the room. Heading our way down the aisle, he shook every hand, even if it was not outstretched to him.

Cruz answers a question about paid family leave.

Taking the stage, Cruz asked the cheering audience: “how ’bout them Patriots?” He quickly added that he does not like pandering, however, he does think that Tom Brady was framed. By who? Hillary Clinton, that’s why she deleted her emails! The crowd laughed, but the joke was a very awkward way to start the event. After a few more laugh lines about how happy he was to be in the “real Washington,” Cruz launched into his standard stump, explaining how he wants to bring an “awakening” to this country.

Cruz then talked about his first day in office. Here’s his agenda for Friday, January 20, 2017:

  1. Rescind all the “illegal” actions taken by President Obama. He explained this goal with a convoluted metaphor about how he “lives by the pen” and “dies by the pen,” but his pen has an eraser (Senator Cruz, may I introduce you to the word “pencil”?).
  2. Ask the Department of Justice to open an investigation on Planned Parenthood (the audience particularly enjoyed this line).
  3. Require all branches and departments of the federal government to seek out persecution of religious freedom.
  4. “Rip to shreds” the nuclear deal with Iran (another big applause line).
  5. Move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, “the once and eternal capital” of the nation.

“In the days that follow,” Cruz said he would work with Congress to repeal “every word of Obamacare.” He would also end Common Core and federal involvement in education. Cruz argued that the country needs a president who is willing to “utter the words ‘radical, Islamic terrorist.'” He believes that the status quo parallels the end of the Carter administration and the “Reagan Revolution.” According to Cruz, this revolution did not come from Washington, D.C., but rather the American people.

Towards the end of his stump, Cruz pivoted back to the need for an awakening in the United States. He concluded on the importance of American freedom, citing his father’s experience in Cuba. According to Cruz, when his father felt that his freedom was threatened in Cuba, he came to America, which led the candidate to ask: “if Americans lose their freedom, where do we go?”

Cruz then opened the floor up to questions. Of the six that were asked, two focused on religion. The first question was about how he would protect religious liberty in the U.S. and across the world. Cruz took this as an opportunity to discuss the threat of ISIS and how the group’s destruction is the best way to protect American religious freedom. The second question was about what Cruz would do to restore the Ten Commandments in public life. In response, Cruz discussed his record as the Texas solicitor general.

One member of the audience asked Cruz what characteristics he looked for in a running mate. He referred to Cruz as his “brother,” because he believed Cruz had been “saved.” He apologized if such language was inappropriate. Cruz quickly responded by saying one should ever “apologize for their faith.” The candidate then explained that it was too early to talk about vice presidential picks. However, he thinks all of his opponents in the Republican field would be worthy members of any cabinet.

Another question that stood out was asked by a young woman. As a mother, she wanted to know where Cruz stood on paid leave, citing Rubio’s stance on the issue. He quickly shut down the question, explaining that the only way to make some sort of paid leave possible would be to return the United States to a robust economic growth. There is “no doubt we would love to offer paid leave,” explained Cruz, but giving away free things is impractical. In response to a question on the potential for a convention of the states, Cruz, like Rubio, said he would propose two amendments: balanced budget and term limits for Congress and the judiciary.

In his closing remarks, Cruz implored the audience to get involved, volunteer, and, most importantly, pray. He cited one last biblical verse, which a number of audience members knew word for word, and entered the crowd to take pictures with eager supporters.

Throughout the event, Cruz seemed more like a preacher and less like a candidate for president. Judeo-Christian values and religious freedom were prioritized by both the candidate and his audience. Cheers from the crowd were punctuated by “amen” and “God bless.” Compared to Rubio’s event, the audience was older, more white, and more decided. Based on the anecdotal conversations we overheard, many of the attendees were already Cruz supporters, which explains why he connected so well with the audience.

We couldn’t hang around too long because we had to get to Hanover, NH for a 3:30pm Kasich town hall. Read our next post to hear about Kasich’s unique sense of humor and communication “skills.”

Project Metrics

  • Selfies with the campaign bus (and a signed copy of the Bill of Rights):IMG_9074
  • Miles on the road: 107
  • Yard signs:
    • 3 John Kasich
    • 3 Hillary Clinton
    • 3 Ted Cruz
    • 5 Donald Trump
    • 6 Carly Fiorina
    • 14 Bernie Sanders


#HeyMarco in Henniker

Last Friday we travelled to Henniker, NH to attend a Rubio town hall. After two hours in the car, we pulled up to New England College’s Simon Center. Even though we arrived 45 minutes before the 12:15pm start time, the parking lot was full and only a few seats were empty. Rubio’s staffers, clad in their Marco Rubio windbreakers, were buzzing around the room with coffees and 5-hour ENERGY bottles in their hands.

New England College's Simon Center before Rubio's arrival

New England College’s Simon Center before Rubio’s arrival

Long before Rubio arrived at 12:25pm, the room had filled up. A group students from the local middle-school arrived and were directed to sit around the stage. After introductions from members of the college’s community and the pledge of allegiance, Rubio entered the room, donning a sweatshirt with his campaign logo over his tie and button-down shirt.

Before taking questions, Rubio opened with his standard stump speech. From the beginning he emphasized how he would be different from President Barack Obama. He criticized the president for undermining the Constitution. Unlike President Obama, Rubio said he would not be a president who apologizes for America. He went on to list the various threats that the United States has to deal with in the 21st century, including a “lunatic in North Korea” and an Iranian nuclear weapon. He then pivoted to discussing the problem with establishment politics. He called out leaders, particularly Hillary Clinton, for being out of touch with the American public.

Rubio returned to criticizing the current president’s legacy, saying he will repeal every single one of Obama’s “unconstitutional” executive orders. He then proposed a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and term limits on Congress and the judiciary.

Pivoting back to national security, Rubio focused on the threat of ISIS. Under a Rubio presidency, sanctuary cities would immediately lose federal funding. “When I’m president, we are going to have a real war on terrorism. Terrorists will be sent to Guantanamo and we are going to find out every thing you know.”

Rubio then moved from national security to veterans affairs, accidentally criticizing the federal employees who staff VA facilities – “people at the VA aren’t doing a good job.” He quickly backtracked and clarified that some people at the VA are good, but “bad” employees would be fired.

Rubio clarified that he thinks the United States is “not a weak country.” He just thinks that we just have a bad president. Instead of ending there, Rubio concluded with an odd criticism of Chris Christie, even though he doesn’t support negative campaigns. He pulled a paper out of his back pocket and read Christie’s statement in favor of Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor’s nomination. Before opening the floor up to questions he slammed Christie on his support for Common Core and gun control.

One of the students from the local middle school asked a question about Rubio’s stance on re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. The candidate said that he wants the American relationship with Cuba to improve because Cuba changes, not because the U.S. gives in. He cited the restoration of ties with Myanmar in 2012 as a good model to follow. The problem with Obama’s approach towards Cuba is that he changed U.S. policy, but did not ask the Cuban government to reciprocate.

In response to a question about PEPFAR, Rubio said he would increase funding for Bush’s program to relieve the HIV/AIDs epidemic in Africa. Also, in response to multiple questions on climate change, Rubio argued that “climate has always changed” and that the policies that are supposed to curb the effects of climate change seem to do nothing in terms of improving the environment. Instead, these policies would result in a huge job loss. However, Rubio did advocate for taking advantage of solar, wind, and hydroelectric energy. He was also asked how he would respond to the Pentagon’s decision that climate change is a national security threat. He said that the real threats are coming from terrorist groups and countries like North Korea, Iran, and Russia.

Marco Rubio at New England College for a town hall.

Marco Rubio at New England College for a town hall.

One of the more “human” moments of the town hall happened when a woman wearing a Patriots hat asked a question. Before she could get her point across, Rubio started making small talk about football. As a Dolphins fan, he jokingly asked the New England College audience, “when will Brady retire?” His well-documented love of football was apparent and the crowd loved it. The woman’s question was about how he would protect families who care for children with autism. Rubio responded with a story about a family friend with an autistic daughter and how he tried to change the way Florida dealt with this issue. He ended his answer by explaining where the government fit into the equation: “I’m a conservative, but I believe in the safety net because we cannot have free enterprise without a safety net.”

The last question came from another student who asked about Rubio’s plan to make higher education more affordable. Rubio argued that some of the best jobs today do not require a college degree (which completely contradicts Bernie Sanders’ go-to line that ” [a] college degree is the new high school diploma”). As an alternative to student loans, he proposed a student investment system, where students pay back their loans with a percentage of their income. Pivoting back to his campaign motto, “A New American Century,” Rubio concluded that the U.S. needs to teach its students employable skills in the 21st century, which apparently does not include Roman philosophy. Rubio then descended from the platform and the audience swarmed around him to take photos and get his signature.

Rubio’s stump and Q&A responses were filled with big applause lines. The press risers and desks were full and standing room was tight. The audience was energetic, racially diverse (for the third whitest state in the nation), and varied in age (probably because we were on a college campus). From the conversations we had with other people attending the event, some were undecided Republicans who liked Rubio and wanted to learn more. There were also some liberal individuals in attendance as well, particularly Sanders supporters.

Rubio connected well with the crowd and clearly appealed to more moderate strands of the party with his stump. Considering the fact that he had just debated on stage in South Carolina the night before and had a breakfast event in Derry, NH at 8:00am, Rubio was energetic, affable, and only slightly awkward (like that one time he forgot his daughter’s age). Looking forward to future events!

Project Metrics:

  • Miles on the road: 226
  • Selfies with the campaign bus: 

    Team with the Marco Rubio campaign bus.

    Team with the Marco Rubio campaign bus.

  • Yard signs:
    • 1 Rand Paul
    • 1 Carly Fiorina
    • 1 Bernie Sanders
    • 2 Donald Trump


Welcome to our Political Science Independent Study blog!

Photo Courtesy of www.outsidethebeltway.com

Photo Courtesy of www.outsidethebeltway.com

We are a group of four sophomores who will be spending the next couple of weeks traveling back and forth to New Hampshire to view the political spectacle leading up to the primary on February 9th. Aside from observing the events as students of Political Science, we will also be conducting a survey experiment on the effect that provocative statements have on voters’ decisions. Also, for discussions with our advisor, Professor Bert Johnson, we are reading texts like The Gamble and The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform to better understand the process we are studying. We will use this blog to write about the events we attend and share our experiences.

Please join us on our New Hampshire adventure!