- The Washington Times - Monday, November 2, 2015

Ohio Gov. John Kasich is running an ornery presidential campaign, blasting Republican rivals as unserious and vowing to deliver tough talk to party voters, in a campaign designed to test whether New Hampshire is still kingmaker among the primaries.

A conservative stalwart during his time in Congress in the 1980s and 1990s, Mr. Kasich has embraced the pragmatic political center during this campaign, touting himself as a conservative who cares about gay rights, the mentally ill, the poor and drug users who need treatment instead of prison. He’s stuck to moderate views on immigration and the Common Core education standards.

He got a late start as one of the last candidates to announce, in a field already crowded with governors appealing to the establishment wing of the GOP — leaving him little choice but to try to make a stand in New Hampshire, which is the most moderate-friendly of the early-primary states.

A well-received performance in the first presidential debate in August gave him a boost, but he’s since stalled, leaving analysts to question his strategy choices.

Kasich’s message may play well in New Hampshire, but you can’t run a campaign appealing to independents and expect to win South Carolina,” said Scott Huffmon, a political science professor at Winthrop University. “Moreover, his excuse of expanding Medicaid — that it’s the biblical thing to do — well, many evangelical voters may take that wrong and feel like they’re being lectured too.”

Mr. Kasich isn’t the only candidate to believe a New Hampshire-based approach can win. Sen. John McCain tried it in 2000 and again in 2008, riding it to the GOP nomination that second time. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman tried the same strategy again in 2012, but failed to catch fire.


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John Weaver, who advised Mr. McCain and Mr. Huntsman on their presidential bids, is also advising Mr. Kasich.

Kasich’s campaign is the second-coming of Jon Huntsman, and I don’t know who thought that was a good idea,” said Bill Mayer, a political scientist at Northeastern University. “Kasich’s consultant, after the 2012 election, blamed Romney’s loss on the fact he didn’t do well enough with Hispanic voters because they had run an intolerant campaign. He then he brought that to Kasich and he has followed his advice. I think the current roster of Republican consultants is weak, and that explains why so many of these mainstream candidates are running such uninspired campaigns.”

Mr. Kasich is seem competing most directly with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. The latest RealClearPolitics.com average of national polls puts Mr. Bush at 6.6 percent support, Mr. Kasich at 2.2 percent and Mr. Christie at 1.8 percent.

In New Hampshire Mr. Kasich runs fifth, with 8.3 percent of the vote, only two-tenths of a percentage point behind Mr. Bush, while Mr. Christie languishes in eighth place with 3.8 percent support. But Mr. Kasich is in 10th place in both Iowa and South Carolina, which round out the early schedule.

“I haven’t seen a compelling message from him yet or a lot of energy on the ground,” said Mike Dennehy, who worked for Mr. McCain in New Hampshire and remains unaffiliated in this race. “Whether he can turn things around remains to be seen. One thing the insider campaigns are missing is there is not a distinguishing factor between them This is why they’re mired in these single digits.”

Hoping to revive his campaign, Mr. Kasich has also begun lecturing voters not to be swayed by Donald Trump or Ben Carson, the two GOP front-runners he says shouldn’t be a serious part of the party’s presidential contest.

He’s also had other hiccups on the campaign trail. He was accused of being condescending when he told a female college student in Richmond that he didn’t have Taylor Swift concert tickets for her. And in New Hampshire, he told an audience member she would “get over” cuts to her Social Security payments as a result of his reform plan.

Mr. Kasich is trying to build a ground game in New Hampshire, and has won endorsements of John E. Sununu, a former U.S. senator for the state. He’s also nabbed Tom Rath, who advised a long line of GOP presidential candidates including Mr. Romney and George W. Bush, to serve as his co-chairman in the state.

His super PAC, New Day for America, has also sent some of his supporters in Ohio to knock on doors in the Granite State and plans to spend $11.5 million on television ads through New Hampshire’s February primary election.

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