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Eye On Candidates
July 21, 2015

John Kasich to Announce Candidacy Today

Ohio Gov. John Kasich is scheduled to announce his candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination today, bringing to 16 the total number of declared candidates. Bloomberg Politics reports on the expected launch:

Blue-Collar Conservative John Kasich Takes Aim at the White House

Ohio Governor John Kasich, seeking to emerge from a crowded Republican presidential field as a practical and compassionate leader from a must-win swing state, is expected to formally announce Tuesday that he’s running in 2016….

Kasich, who also ran briefly for president in 1999, has positioned himself as a “change agent” with executive, legislative, and business experience who can get results at a time when people are doubting the American dream.

Kasich’s role as Ohio’s chief executive will be paired on the campaign trail with his time in Congress to present Republican voters with an extensive résumé and history of accomplishment, not to mention a pragmatic streak:

As he enters the crowded Republican presidential field, Kasich seeks to differentiate himself as a conservative who sees a responsibility for government to help those “in the shadows.”

As governor, Kasich has overseen two budgets that cut income taxes and other levies almost $5 billion. He has overcome opposition from his own party to expand Medicaid under President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul to help the drug-addicted, mentally ill, and others in need….

Kasich, who often says “the Republican Party is my vehicle, not my master,” says he will take a problem-solving approach to Washington politics….

As chairman of the House of Representatives Budget Committee, he oversaw the last balanced federal spending plan. He also pushed for changes in military procurement, including limiting production of the B-2 bomber.

Shane Goldmacher has an intriguing piece over at National Journal suggesting Kasich’s bid for the GOP nomination risks repeating former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman’s 2012 mistake, “being defined by his differences, not his conservative credentials.” Goldmacher writes:

With his iconoclastic instincts and a political team more suited to encouraging them than reining them in, Kasich is in jeopardy of becoming defined by his differences with the Republican Party, rather than by his budget-slashing, blue-collar, conservative roots and record….

He's expanded Medicaid in Ohio as part of Obamacare, over GOP objections. He's proposed a fracking tax, despite his party's embrace of "drill, baby, drill." He supports the Common Core educational standards and proposals for comprehensive immigration reform that rankle the Right. And, perhaps most importantly, he seems to relish the role of party scold….

Huntsman, who joined the GOP field after serving as ambassador to China under President Obama, was similarly defined by his disagreements and differences with the GOP grassroots.

The Huntsman comparison comes up not simply because Kasich publicly criticizes the GOP on issues where he diverges from the party, but because several of his campaign’s senior consultants were involved in the 2012 Huntsman campaign:

Kasich shares far more than Huntsman's willingness to scold fellow Republicans. Kasich has essentially imported both Huntsman's campaign strategy (betting on New Hampshire) and his campaign team. Three of Huntsman's old top advisers—strategists Fred Davis, John Weaver, and Matt David—are leading both Kasich's campaign and his super PAC.

Whether Kasich can avoid Huntsman’s fate (the former Utah governor finished last in Iowa and New Hampshire before dropping out) and even mount a competitive campaign will depend on a number of factors. The New York Times offers its analysis of what Kasich would have to do to win:

The Coalition - Mr. Kasich’s support is likely to come from a mix of moderate and somewhat conservative Republicans. His expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and his aversion to the culture wars present considerable obstacles in winning over more ideological voters. But he could have an opening with Republicans inclined to look past such heterodoxy who are attracted to his blunt style and deep governing experience in a pivotal swing state.

The Map - His prospects for winning the nomination, perhaps more than any other Republican’s, hinge on a strong showing in New Hampshire. If Mr. Kasich cannot perform well there – where the electorate is more secular than Iowa’s, and unaffiliated voters are permitted to cast their ballots in the primary – it is hard to imagine his emerging as a serious contender later in the race….

Why He Will Win - The Ohio governor's varied pedigree could make him acceptable to many donors and influential Republicans as well as to the party’s working-class voters. In 2000, when Mr. Kasich last ran for the White House, George W. Bush had a firm hold on the vast majority of grass-roots party activists and wealthy contributors. But this is a very different moment: If Jeb Bush falters, and less doctrinaire Republicans are searching for another candidate who could be viable in a general election, Mr. Kasich will have a case to make.

Considering why Kasich might not win the nomination, however, the Times piece comes back to his heterodoxy on conservative issues, concluding simply: “It is difficult to see how Republicans would nominate someone who, in the view of many in the party, has helped enable President Obama’s signature domestic accomplishment.” This is likely to be the single biggest stumbling block for Kasich as he pursues the GOP nomination.