- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 23, 2000

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

“My personal favorite, frankly, is John Kasich of Ohio.”

— Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, on who would make the best running mate for George W. Bush.

Bob Dole apparently figures if he can’t get into the White House through the front door, he will settle for the back door. On CNN’s “Late Edition” recently, he put in yet another plug for his wife, Elizabeth, to be Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s vice presidential running mate.

But given her own lackluster campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, which died aborning, it’s hard to see what Mrs. Dole would bring to the ticket.

Her native North Carolina? Her adopted state of Kansas? Both are already firmly in the Bush camp. The District, which the Doles call home now, with its three electoral votes? Not a prayer.

Sorry, Bob, but with the latest tallies of Electoral College votes showing Mr. Bush within striking distance of the magic 270 figure, as reported in this newspaper July 4, attention necessarily turns to the Midwest, with which the term “key battleground” will be used interchangeably by pundits and political strategists alike from now till Nov. 7.

It follows, therefore, that’s where Mr. Bush should concentrate his search for his No. 2. For several reasons, he should give serious consideration to Rep. John R. Kasich of Ohio who coincidentally appeared on “Late Edition” the same day as Mr. Dole.

Beyond balancing the ticket geographically, Mr. Kasich would provide the requisite balance of a member of Congress (an “insider”) sharing the ticket with a governor (an “outsider”).

More importantly, Mr. Bush needs to select someone who won’t “anger” the base of the party the conservative activists as, say, New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman or Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge would. That’s because, unlike the country clubbers, who mostly host wine-and-cheese receptions, it’s the conservative activists who are the sine qua non of Republican victories; namely, the door-knockers, the phone-bankers, the envelope-stuffers.

Indeed, the selection of the Ohioan would not only excite the conservative base, it would unite all factions of the party. Mr. Kasich a solid conservative, but not a fire-breathing right-winger is respected across the Republican spectrum, and thus could guarantee the sort of party unity that the selection of a centrist or liberal would not.

Pundits and party apparatchiks who say Mr. Bush should choose a centrist-liberal because conservatives have nowhere to go are badly mistaken: Conservatives could and many would stay home, and not vote at all, or might cast a protest vote for likely Reform Party nominee Pat Buchanan. At minimum, they certainly would be far less enthusiastic about volunteering to lick stamps at campaign headquarters or to provide shoe leather for literature distribution.

Despite his youthful demeanor, Mr. Kasich, 48, is a veteran campaigner, with nine terms his current one won with 67 percent of the vote under his belt. He won his 1996 race with 64 percent while Mr. Dole was losing the district narrowly to President Clinton, and won with 71 percent of the vote in 1992 when Mr. Bush’s father, President Bush, was beating Mr. Clinton by just 2,507 votes out of 261,291 cast in his district.

The 18 years on Capitol Hill Mr. Kasich would bring to the ticket would effectively neutralize any lingering doubts, however unjustified, of Mr. Bush’s readiness for governing the country.

Additionally, the Ohioan has for years championed ending corporate welfare, which dovetails nicely with Mr. Bush’s claim to being a reformer with results. And Mr. Kasich’s Project for American Renewal, which champions the role of charities and community empowerment, is a nice fit with Mr. Bush’s own compassionate conservatism.

With huge budget surpluses projected for years to come, this fall’s campaign is likely to turn in large measure on what to do with those surpluses. Who better to make the case for returning that money to the people who earned it in the form of the sort of large tax cuts Mr. Bush has called for than the chairman of the House Budget Committee?

As Bruce Blakeman of Worthlin Worldwide pollsters noted as far back as 1996, Mr. Kasich “is a good face for what the Republicans are trying to do with the budget. He humanizes it, says what it means to the American family.” National Journal has likewise lauded him as “one of the most innovative and daring budget-meisters in Congress.”

A dynamic speaker, he would carry Ohio for the ticket and presumably other Midwestern states, and possibly also his native Pennsylvania for the GOP, thereby ensuring a Republican victory. While Govs. Tommy Thompson, John Engler and George Ryan and Sens. Richard G. Lugar, Mike DeWine and George V. Voinovich are also Midwesterners, none has the television-friendly persona Mr. Kasich would bring to the campaign.

There were those of us who thought Mr. Dole should have picked Mr. Kasich as his running mate in 1996. But in hindsight, it’s just as well Mr. Dole didn’t, as it’s doubtful that even Mr. Kasich could have rescued the Republican ticket that year. But he would be a definite asset this year, and should be at the top of Mr. Bush’s short list of vice presidential prospects.



Peter Parisi is a copy editor for The Washington Times.

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