Ohio Gov. John Kasich will make a foray to New Hampshire this week, testing whether another GOP governor with a reputation for compassionate conservatism and the potential for broad appeal can find a place amid the crowded 2016 presidential field.
It’s Mr. Kasich’s second look at running, following a short-lived flirtation in 1999, when he was an up-and-coming member of Congress and was chased from the field by the GOP’s original compassionate conservative governor, George W. Bush.
This time, Mr. Kasich’s chances likely will be affected by another Bush — former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a brother and son of former presidents who is the most prominent big-state governor in the field.
“Kasich kind of has an interesting profile because you would think he could get support from establishment figures if Jeb Bush struggles some and the establishment is looking around for someone with a governor’s profile to run,” said Geoffrey Skelley, of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
But Mr. Kasich also can point to his nine terms in Congress, including his time at the helm of the House Budget Committee when he helped push the government to its first balanced budgets in decades in the latter years of the Clinton administration.
“If you look at the field, he would have to be a top-tier candidate just based on his experience and what he brings to the table related to ability,” said former Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, another budget hawk. “He is the only person who could be running who has had success in Washington and been successful as a governor.”
Mr. Kasich won a landslide re-election to a second term as governor last year, proving his popularity in a state considered pivotal for a Republican presidential candidate to win. Combined with his time in Ohio’s Legislature and Congress, the 62-year-old may bring the most government experience in elective office of any of the candidates seeking the White House next year.
While in Congress, Mr. Kasich served on the House Armed Services Committee, giving him foreign policy experience that could come in handy if the presidential election trends that way.
After his brief presidential run in 1999, Mr. Kasich did not seek re-election in 2000.
He went on to work for Fox News and as a Wall Street investment banker before winning the governorship in 2010.
Mr. Kasich’s best calling card, though, could be his political strength in Ohio, arguably the most important state in Electoral College calculations. No Republican has won the White House without winning Ohio, where Mr. Kasich has deep political roots and won his re-election race by 31 percentage points over Democrat Ed FitzGerald, the county executive of Cuyahoga County.
He boasts legislative and executive credentials, serving in the Ohio State Senate from 1979 to 1982 before his election to the U.S. House.
Mr. Kasich’s office did not respond to emails and phone calls seeking comment on his appearance at a Politics and Eggs session Tuesday at St. Anselm College in Manchester, which has become a must-stop on the presidential campaign trail.
The event will offer Mr. Kasich a chance to showcase the blunt, off-the-cuff style that has strengthened his appeal among those who see his candor as a sign of authenticity, even if it has landed him in hot water at times.
As governor, Mr. Kasich has cut income taxes, abolished the estate tax and limited taxes on small businesses. He signed a prison reform bill that overhauled state sentencing laws and slashed state aid to localities.
He also butted heads with the Republican-controlled Legislature over his push to increase the state sales tax and to increase taxes on the oil and gas fracking industry.
He also has come under fire for being open to a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants and circumventing the Legislature to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, positions that could cause him problems on the Republican primary trail but which he defends in part by citing his Christian faith.
“He argues, and I think it has been a very effective argument, that part of the biblical injunction is to help the poor, and he sees Medicaid and the kind of health care that can be provided as one way to do that,” said Paul Beck, a political science professor at Ohio State University. “I think that kind of softens his conservative edges and broadens his appeal in the general election and with business conservatives in Ohio.”
Early national polls show Mr. Kasich running last among likely Republican presidential contenders.
Still, Mr. Gregg said Mr. Kasich could be a formidable candidate in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary in part because independents are allowed to vote — unlike the closed Iowa caucuses that kick off the notation fight.
“The electorate in New Hampshire, unlike Iowa, is not dominated by small ideological groups,” Mr. Gregg said.
Tom Rath, a veteran Republican Party strategist in New Hampshire, agreed that New Hampshire could be friendly territory for Mr. Kasich — particularly among voters who supported former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the 2012 nomination race.
“The Romney vortex is still very much in play and is looking for a center-right conservative who has governed,” Mr. Rath said.
Mr. Rath, though, warned that Mr. Kasich must act fast if he hopes to be taken seriously and must show that he is committed to building the sort of organization needed to compete.
“They don’t have any sort of organization whatsoever,” he said. “He would need to get some people in place, and he would need to commit to a very intensive schedule, and he can’t wait.”