Tag Archives: John Kasich

As Vermont Goes, So Goes Kasich?

John Kasich took his long-shot campaign north to Vermont today in anticipation of this state’s Super Tuesday primary tomorrow, and your intrepid blogger battled moderate temperatures and fields of solar panels to give you this report:

We arrived at the Castleton University Campus Center about 15 minutes prior to Kasich’s scheduled 11:30 a.m. talk and already the crowd had spilled out of the auditorium and into the adjoining lobby area. By now we are veterans of these crowds, and we knew enough to push people out of the way until we got a proper vantage point from our usual slot near the media, who were lined up in the back of the room. All three of Vermont’s major television networks were covering the events.

This was easily the largest audience we’ve seen in the four Kasich Town Halls we’ve attended. Although I wasn’t able to do a good hand count, I’m estimating that there were between 750-1,000 people in the auditorium, including a couple rows of people on the stage behind him. Demographically, the crowd had a good mix of college students and older individuals. From the start, they seemed favorably disposed toward him, applauding as he walked on stage and generally seeming to react positively to his message.

For his part, it is clear what Kasich’s strategy is in coming to Vermont again (he was here on the day of the South Carolina Republican primary as well.) Kasich is trying to distinguish himself as the “grown up” in an increasingly infantile Republican race, and he trying to peel off moderates and independents to supplement his narrow support among the Republican base. To this end, he’s hoping to do well in Vermont and Massachusetts tomorrow, so that he’s at least in the conversation as the race moves to the Midwest with primaries in Michigan on March 8 and in his home state of Ohio on March 15. Michigan is a winner-take-most delegates state with 55 delegates up for grabs, and Ohio is winner-take-all with 66 delegates to be awarded. Currently, he trails in the polls in every state tomorrow, and it is unclear how much support, and money, he will retain if he is shut out. So he is banking on a victory in Vermont. There has not been much polling of the Republican race here, but a recent VPR/Castleton poll has him tied for third with Cruz with about 10%, trailing both Rubio (17%) and Trump (32%). My sense, however, is that both Rubio and Cruz have likely dropped off since that poll was taken.  In any case, I think Kasich senses that Vermont is his best chance to claim a victory tomorrow.

Toward that end he retained his sunny optimism and trademark humorous asides that have characterized his demeanor in recent campaign events, refusing to criticize any of his opponents, although he clearly took a swipe at their policies, particularly on immigration, where he described promises to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, including breaking up families, as simply unrealistic. But in this particular speech he also made a concerted effort to emphasize his support for women’s rights, both in the context of defeating ISIS (“they treat women as property – did you know that?”) and in emphasizing job and educational opportunities for women. He also made a point of introducing his wife and his two daughters to the crowd, which I had not seen him do before.  Again, I wonder what his polling data is telling him regarding his support among women here, and in the race more generally.

After announcing that he intends to remain “the adult in the race”, Kasich launched into his familiar story about how he talked his way into a 25-minute one-on-one meeting with President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office as an 18-year old. He also paid homage to Bernie Sanders, noting that they had worked together in the Senate. When the crowd booed Bernie’s name, Kasich shushed them, saying he wanted to adopt one of Bernie’s policies of giving things away for free: “How about Ben and Jerry’s ice cream free for a year?” (Throughout the speech, Kasich sprinkled in local references, noting, for instance, the abundance of solar panels through the state despite his never seeing any sun during his visits here.)

He then recited the usual biographical details, noting his maternal grandmother was an immigrant, at which point he took the opportunity to assail his opponents’ more draconian immigration policies. “There was a time when we invited people here….it made us a healthier nation.” He talked about his father working in the coal mines, and getting cheated by his employer, and his mother as a radio “pioneer” – she would yell at the radio while listening to programs he said, to much laughter. After acknowledging that Vermont is a “pretty secular” state, he discussed his spiritual beliefs, and the importance of having a purpose in life. He would return to this theme later when addressing why people become addicted to drugs, or join ISIS – “they are searching for something.” He then noted that although the presidency is an important job, it is “not going to help address the issues facing Castleton.” Instead, he emphasized the need to act locally by strengthening communities and education opportunities.  These are familiar themes for Kasich, ones I have seen him address in previous campaign stops, but he seemed a bit more relaxed, and also more energized, this time around, perhaps sensing that he was speaking, for the most part, to a receptive audience.

“Life is but a breathe,” Kasich said near the end of his speech, “you are here and then gone.” He noted, to much laughter, that when he his eulogy is read, he hopes that 80% of it is true. He concluded by noting that “if you liked what you heard here today, please vote for me tomorrow. If you didn’t like it, please don’t tell anyone!”  Again the crowd laughed.

Kasich took about a half-dozen questions, ranging from how to deal with climate change – “Some of it is man-made but I don’t know how much”, ISIS – “We need to destroy them”, the Russians and Putin –  “I will support the Ukrainians”, and making college more affordable (the latter question came from a 12-year old girl.) Kasich emphasized the role of community colleges and the need to hold down costs by cutting out non-academic expenses. Except for the very first audience question – “Can you get me Donald Trump’s autograph?” – the questioners seemed generally interested in Kasich’s responses. Perhaps the most interesting exchange took place when a man read a very lengthy and somewhat convoluted statement regarding a possible connection between spending for a U.S. State Department government program and shadowy groups that traffic in child pornography. Rather than respond in detail, Kasich asked the man to give him the sheet of statistics he was holding, and promised to follow up on the issue.

As I noted above, Kasich seemed more energized, and at the same time more relaxed, than in his previous campaign events. When I saw him in South Carolina a couple weeks ago, perhaps because he was cognizant that he was not going to do well there, he seemed more subdued. Vermont is an important state for him – if he can’t do well here tomorrow it is hard to make the case for why he should go on. (Some might argue it is already hard to make that case!) After getting an initial burst of publicity, and fund-raising, off of his second place finish in New Hampshire, he needs to show that he is still viable. His hope, of course, is that either Cruz or Rubio will drop out after tomorrow, and that he will then be positioned as the primary alternative to Trump, who he thinks he can beat in a one-on-one contest. Even if they don’t, he needs to beat them somewhere to remain credible. Vermont and Massachusetts probably offer this best hope to do so tomorrow. Win or lose, however, Kasich is publicly claiming he is in the race for the long haul. As he prepared to leave the auditorium today, he quoted Arnold (The Terminator) Schwarzenegger, promising “I’ll be back!” We’ll see if he has the opportunity to keep that promise.

For those of you in Vermont, I’ll be on WCAX (Channel 3) later today (at 5:30) on the :30 to preview tomorrow’s Super Tuesday events.

Tales From the Campaign Trail: Kasich In New Hampshire

Today is the first of what I hope to be a regularly recurring feature on this site during the current election cycle: a post recounting a visit to a campaign event put on by one of the major presidential candidates. On Wednesday* I attended Ohio Governor John Kasich’s visit to West Lebanon, a small (population about 3,500) community in western NH situated along the Connecticut River. Despite a relatively late start in the race, Kasich has emerged as one of the stronger candidates, aided by what was generally perceived as a strong performance in the first Republican debate. Although he’s only at 3.4% in Pollster.com aggregate polls, which puts him in the lower middle of the Republican pack, he’s gaining ground in the crucial state of New Hampshire where he has emerged as Jeb Bush’s primary competition as the Donald Trump alternative.

Kasich’s rise in the New Hampshire polls made Tuesday’s event of particular interest to me. We arrived at the Kilton Public Library to find a standing-room-only crowd which I estimated at about 200 people. The audience seemed mostly middle-aged and up, with a few wearing shirts emblazoned with Kasich campaign slogan and logo, and there was a bit of a buzz of anticipation. After a short pep-rally style introduction by a local official, Kasich entered to polite applause. He was dressed casually, which fit well with his overall demeanor (see blurry photo below – blame new smart phone).


As one might expect with a candidate who is still not particularly well known, Kasich spent the first part of his relatively brief campaign spiel (he talked for maybe 15 minutes before taking questions) recounting his biography, starting with his working-class roots in Pennsylvania, and working his way through his political career beginning as a state Senator in Ohio, then his years in Congress, and finally his election as Ohio Governor in 2010. The narrative was spiced with some humorous asides, including a tale of Kasich’s meeting with President Richard Nixon. While it is common for presidential candidates to tout their humble roots, the implicit comparison between Kasich’s origins and those of his main New Hampshire rival Jeb! Bush was likely not lost on most audience members.

Kasich is viewed as a relative moderate among Republicans, a perception that is supported when looking at his primary fundraising sources – a metric that places him close to Bush, Christie and Pataki on the ideological spectrum. That moderation came across in Tuesday’s event when he began discussing, in broad strokes, the themes that animate his campaign. If I had to summarize Kasich’s approach in one word, it would be “balance.” Although clearly pushing conservative ideas, he repeatedly stressed the need to work across the political aisle and to compromise on issues, taking time to tout his own record of budget surpluses and compromise in Congress. In this vein he told an anecdote about his golfing foursome with President Obama, Vice President Biden and Speaker of the House John Boehner, after which – according to Kasich – he took each of them aside and asked if they understood what a privilege it was to be in the positions they occupied. Kasich suggested that, at least for a brief period, that type of “we are in this together” thinking came close to leading to a budget breakthrough. (Left unsaid, of course, was the fact that it did NOT produce a breakthrough!)

Kasich repeated this theme in the question-and-answer session that took up most of the event’s time. Perhaps the only discordant note came early in the Q&A when an audience member pressed him somewhat aggressively on Kasich’s previous statements questioning the science underlying theories of climate change. Kasich conceded that some climate change reflected human activity, but he suggested that efforts to combat that change should not come at the expense of economic growth and he stressed the need to keep an open mind. He then used his answer to segue into a discussion about the need to diversify the nation’s power sources, emphasizing both renewable fuels but also nuclear and coal. For the most part, however, the tone of the questions was polite and they ran the gamut from Kasich’s view on fighting ISIS to the Iran nuclear deal to trade policy to restoring economic growth to repealing Obamacare. Kasich did not shy away from giving direct responses to each question although his answers were generally couched in broad strokes rather than specific detail.

Looking at my notes, here is what I recall about his responses, subject to correction by anyone who was there. Although he opposed the Iran nuclear deal, he indicated that as president he would not move to reimpose sanctions unless Iran violated the agreement. He would move toward a greater deregulation of the economy in order to entice more business to locate domestically, rather than overseas, describing himself as “a free trader, but a fair trader.” To spur economic growth, he recommended reducing the deficit budget, ending Dodd-Frank and ending Obamacare. In response to a lengthy question criticizing the role of seniority in Washington, Kasich noted that politicians rarely lose election because of a wrong vote. Instead, they are voted out when they lose the willingness to lead by making difficult choices on behalf of citizens.

In total, the event lasted about an hour. Kasich came across as affable, even folksy, someone very much at ease on the campaign trail talking to voters. He sprinkled his responses with humorous asides, at one point directing a very young (a five year old?) girl to come up alongside him to ask her question, much to her father’s delight and the crowd’s amusement (see blurry picture – curse you bald man!)

As far as I could tell from my observations and limited questioning (I was only able to talk to two people after Kasich departed), audience members left the event favorably disposed toward Kasich, although that’s not to say he won all their votes. It’s easy to see why he’s rising in the polls there, however. He exudes a type of Midwest reasonableness that stands in stark contrast to some of the more ideological firebrands in the Republican field, and his understated demeanor couldn’t be more different than The Donald’s bombastic persona. But his evenhanded responses should not obscure the fact that Kasich is clearly a conservative – when asked how to deal with ISIS, he responded “Destroy them” (after a lengthy discourse on how ISIS is able find recruits). Nonetheless, it seems clear that he views his chief rival in New Hampshire to be Bush, whose views overlap with his, and who has been spending the last two days on his own campaign trip to the Granite state. It is early in the campaign, and Kasich is still a relative unknown. But I suspect New Hampshire is a state in which he could do well, particularly if Bush and/or Trump falter.

I am tempted to end this post by giving Kasich one of those grades for which Mark Halperin is infamous  (Style: C+. Substance: B-. Overall: A!) Instead, I’ll adopt the Fox News mantra: I report, you decide! In the meantime, can you spot the intrepid blogger in the photo posted on Kasich’s website? Hint: I’m the uncouth one.

Until next time, hope to see you on the campaign trail!

*An earlier version of this post said “Tuesday”.  Evidently I can’t tell what day it is anymore.