John Kasich is the governor of Ohio, a position he has held since 2011. Prior to that he served in Congress from 1983 until 2001. He is one of the most politically seasoned candidates in the field. After several months of hinting at a run, he announced his candidacy in July 2015.
Kasich made his name as a budget-cutting leader who served as chair of the House Budget Committee after Republicans took over Congress in 1994. Kasich’s signature achievement is the balanced budget that was achieved during the last years of the Clinton presidency.
He has long been considered a strong candidate for the presidential ticket, and was said to have been considered by Bob Dole as a running mate in 1996. Kasich left his congressional seat in 2000, forming an exploratory committee to run for president. In the end he chose not to run.
After his presidential bid failed to materialize, he entered the private sector, notably working for the now defunct Lehman Brothers, before re-entering politics and defeating Ohio’s incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, in a very close, contentious race.
Kasich’s blue-collar background helps distinguish him from the field, as does his geography. No candidate who has lost the state of Ohio has won the presidency in over 50 years, and a Kasich candidacy would likely help to deliver that critical state. He is considered by many to have a brash demeanor, and is also known for infusing his faith into his political speeches.
As governor of a major state Kasich has the sort of executive experience many often look for in a president, and his more than two decades on the campaign trail and in office has left him with ample political skill. He established himself as a potential contender for the GOP nomination following a strong second-place finish in the New Hampshire primaries (he elected to skip the Iowa caucuses) but fell back after failing to be competitive in the South Carolina or Nevada contests. On Super Tuesday he managed to finish in second place in Massachusetts and Vermont, but otherwise finished at or near the bottom in almost every other state. He finally won a contest on March 15, taking his home state of Ohio while finishing in third place in Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina.
Because of Kasich’s generally poor performance early on, collecting relatively few delegates, it is mathematically impossible for him to win the Republican nomination on the first ballot at the GOP convention – even if he won every remaining delegate he would still fall short. His campaign at this point is hoping to emerge as a consensus second-ballot or later choice, when most of the delegates committed to other candidates on the first ballot are freed up. Because he has managed to avoid much of the sharp back-and-forth between the leading candidates and is the only governor remaining in the race, it isn’t impossible, only highly unlikely.
Kasich was born to working-class (and Democratic) parents in McKees Rocks, Penn. Upon graduation from Ohio State in 1974 with a degree in political science, Kasich almost immediately began his political career, working as an administrative assistant for state Sen. Buz Lukens. During his tenure in that capacity, he married Mary Lee Griffith. They had no children before divorcing in 1980.
In 1978, at the age of 26, Kasich became the youngest candidate to be elected to the state Senate in Ohio’s history. In 1982, he became one of the youngest ever elected to the U.S. Congress, defeating Rep. Bob Shamansky by a margin of 50 to 47 percent to win the first of nine terms.
While Kasich was raised Catholic, an automobile accident that claimed the lives of his parents in 1987 caused him to re-evaluate his faith. While he has long denied any denominational labels, he did convert to Protestantism, though he has said that “there’s always going to be a part of me that considers myself a Catholic.”1
After the Republican revolution of 1994, Kasich became the chair of the House Budget Committee. In line with his fiscally conservative principals, he was the architect of a number of bills aimed at reducing spending, including the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.
In 1999, Kasich made the decision not to seek re-election, and to form an exploratory committee in anticipation of a presidential run. With a low national profile and flagging fundraising numbers, Kasich dropped out of the race in the summer of 1999. He was an early endorser of Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who went on to win the nomination and the presidency.
A highly sought-after speaker, commentator and business analyst, Kasich quickly became busy in the private sector. In 2001, he joined Lehman Brothers in its investment banking division. He stayed with that company until its collapse in 2008.
Concurrent with his business involvement, Kasich was a frequent guest and host on Fox News with his own show, Heartland with John Kasich, which aired until 2007. In 2006, he was heavily recruited to run for governor of Ohio, but chose not to enter the race.
In 2010, Kasich challenged and defeated incumbent Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland and was re-elected in 2014. He currently lives with his second wife, Karen, with whom he has twin daughters.
While his first marriage lasted only five years, Kasich is an ardent supporter of family and religious values. Indeed, many of his political proclivities are predicated on his belief that traditional American values are in jeopardy. This is the topic of his second book, Stand for Something.
While he has a reputation for balancing budgets and cutting taxes, Kasich has registered support for expanding certain entitlements. While he generally seems to oppose Obamacare, Kasich has vacillated on the issue perhaps more than any other prominent Republican. At one stage, he said he didn’t believe the law would be repealed, but he quickly amended his stance the same day to say that the law must be repealed.2
Similarly, Kasich has been an outspoken critic of earmarks. He advocated legislation curtailing their impact on the economy and helped to bring the phrase “corporate welfare” into the national spotlight. His work in this area often meant challenging powerful interests and political leadership.
But despite his past work and rhetoric on reining in wasteful spending and limiting corporate welfare, his track record also shows that he has been willing to pass along and accept earmarks, and as governor he created JobsOhio, a private nonprofit relying on state funding that provides incentives to companies relocating into the state or considering leaving the state.3
As governor, Kasich took a strong political stand with his efforts to reform collective bargaining by public sector unions, which was ultimately thwarted by a voter referendum. Since that time, he has substantially moderated his stance on unions, perhaps as a matter of simply accepting political realities and moving on to more important or more likely political opportunities, or possibly as a matter of positioning himself politically.
Kasich is a reasonably skilled public speaker able to communicate effectively with his audiences, honed by his time as a host on Fox News. His speaking style has been described as “blunt” and he has been praised for a “tell-it-like-it-is” style,4 which could play well on the campaign trail and in debates.
He also has a reputation for having a short temper and a difficult personality.5 He has made a point of lecturing or criticizing Republicans, conservatives and allies who disagree with him,6 and he has a penchant for picking rhetorical fights that might be better avoided.
Considered a “maverick” and an “independent” by members of the press, Kasich has worked across party lines on a host of issues. This helped him to secure landmark victories in terms of balancing the budget, cutting spending and addressing corporate welfare.
In terms of literary output, Kasich has gone above and beyond the typical memoirs. He has authored or co-authored three books, all of which have been commercial successes.7
He has done his best to stay in the national spotlight, having hosted television shows, served as a frequent guest on political talk shows, and penned opinion editorials in major publications.
Kasich is not a noted fundraiser, either for himself or for the Republican Party. His leadership PAC, the New Century Project, has done nothing particularly noteworthy.8
After being chastened by voters on his efforts to reform collective bargaining, Kasich became decidedly more moderate in tone and actions. In expanding Medicaid, he cited the need to take care of the “drug addicted” and “mentally ill.” There is a perception is that he has been neutralized by union opposition in his home state.
Kasich was one of several legislators involved in the creation and development of the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Kasich unveiled parts of his tax reform plan in mid-October 2015 as part of a larger economic agenda. He would lower the top rate from 39.9 percent to 28 percent, and reduce the overall number of rates from the current seven to three, although the two lowest rates weren’t revealed.9 Capital gains taxes would be reduced to 15 percent, while the corporate tax rate would fall to 25 percent under Kasich’s plan.10 He also said he would allow overseas profits to be repatriated tax-free, and under his plan future corporate profits earned overseas would also be exempt from U.S. taxation.11
On taxes, Kasich has been fairly consistent. During his tenure as governor, he cut taxes by $3 billion,12 reducing the small business tax burden by 50 percent and income taxes by 10 percent.13 In spite of this, he managed to close an $8 billion budget shortfall in his state.14 Like many Republican governors, he found revenues to offset the cuts by increasing the tobacco tax, and also raised the state tax on oil drilling companies.15 He also eliminated the estate tax16 and worked to privatize job creation efforts via his Jobs Ohio initiative.17 He has called for the elimination of the gas tax, to be replaced with state and local taxes and tolls, and with spending decisions made at the state and local level.18
In 2010, Kasich signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge sponsored by Americans for Tax Reform.
Budget & Spending
Even before becoming the chair of the House Budget Committee, Kasich authored an alternative to Clinton’s deficit reduction plan. The 1993 bill, which failed by only six votes, would have cut federal spending by $103 billion over five years. He also chaired the congressional conference committee on Bill Clinton’s welfare reform bill, which has been heralded as one of the great victories associated with the Republican revolution in the 1990s.
As budget chair, Kasich’s signature accomplishment was the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. The bill balanced the budget for the first time in 28 years. He also turned a $163 billion federal deficit into a surplus of $236 billion, and he favors a balanced budget amendment at the federal level.19
On more recent budget battles, Kasich said during the 2011 debt limit increase debate that he supported closing tax “loopholes” to raise revenue in exchange for spending cuts while ruling out tax rate hikes.20
Concerning a proposed shutdown in 2015 over defunding Planned Parenthood, Kasich said “I’m willing to fight all day long, but you’ve got to have a good prospect of being able to be successful. Because if you’re not successful, you shut the government down, you open it up and you haven’t achieved anything. You’re just going to have people shake their head and wonder what your thinking was.”21
In October 2015, as part of his economic agenda Kasich proposed eliminating the deficit within eight years, but did not propose specific policies to do so22 other than a later pledge to freeze federal hiring.23 He has proposed eliminating the Commerce Department and preserving some programs and functions, such as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, either by moving them to other departments or establishing them as stand-alone agencies.24
He generally favors privatization efforts, having worked to double funding for school choice, and move toward a public-private partnership for transportation. He also proposed privatizing the food services at state prisons.25 In a November 2015 interview, he said he favored privatizing many federal services, but did not provide specific programs he would target for privatization.26
As governor, he took on the public sector unions and signed into law provisions making changes to collective bargaining for government employees.27 That effort was overturned by voter referendum, however.28 He has indicated he would support a “reasonable” increase in the minimum wage but declined to provide specifics.29
As part of his economic agenda, Kasich proposed a one-year freeze on major new federal regulations.30 He opposed a federal mandate forcing employers to offer paid leave to workers, suggesting instead that greater workplace flexibility would accomplish many of the same goals and help eliminate pay disparities between men and women.31
Kasich has commented that his state’s efforts to deregulate utilities may not have been very smart and expressed some skepticism about the effort.32 He also threatened to veto an agriculture bill that would have ended phone companies’ requirement to provide landline service to all residences, a policy that imposes significant costs on the companies and their other customers.33
During his nine terms in Congress, Kasich was a firm supporter of free trade, voting to support the North American Free Trade Agreement.34 He also supported giving the president the authority to negotiate trade agreements in accordance with goals established by Congress,35 and voted in favor of normalizing trade relations with China.36
He endorsed the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, calling it “critical.”37 During the January 2016 debate in South Carolina he also voiced concern about “dumping” by foreign countries – the practice of selling products in the U.S. below their production cost in order to gain market share – and suggesting that “fair trade,” often a euphemism for protectionism, should be an objective as well.38
While Kasich opposes the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), he earned the ire of conservatives by deciding to expand Medicaid in Ohio under Obamacare.39 When he was unable to get legislative support in his state for Medicaid expansion, he reverted to an executive order to do an end run around the legislature, turning the power to accept federal dollars over to an unelected state board.40
Kasich left Congress before Medicare Part D, the prescription drug program, was passed. He did vote in favor of legislation in 2000 that would have established a similar program, relying on voluntary purchase of private drug coverage.41 He also opposed allowing Medicare to negotiate directly with manufacturers for prescription drug prices, a policy many believe would amount to price controls on medicines.42
Kasich was one of a handful of representatives who co-sponsored the first legislation creating health savings accounts (then called medical savings accounts),43 and in 1995 he voiced support for block granting Medicaid to the states.44
When Obamacare passed, then-candidate for governor Kasich issued a statement criticizing the bill and saying health reform should have been based on tort reform, interstate sale of health insurance, and an end to underwriting for pre-existing conditions.45
Entitlements & Welfare
In 2004, Kasich penned an op-ed advocating linking initial Social Security benefits to the consumer price index rather than wage growth, which would reduce the growth of benefits. He also favored reforms, similar to those proposed by then-President George W. Bush, that would allow workers under the age of 55 to invest part of their payroll taxes in private accounts.46 In July 2015 he spoke about the need for innovation in entitlement programs and brought up his past support for private accounts in Social Security, although his campaign said his remarks weren’t meant to indicate he still favored that policy.47
Kasich has taken firm stances in opposition to illegal immigration, although he seems to have softened in recent years. He continues to support a constitutional amendment clarifying that citizenship by birth is only for current U.S. citizens (not the children of illegal immigrants living in the U.S.) and favors border security measures to reduce illegal immigration,48 but he has said he is open to citizenship for those already here.49 In Congress he supported eliminating benefits under FEMA for illegal immigrants.50 and also voted to increase the number of visas for highly-skilled immigrants.51 He recently said it wasn’t practical or humane to deport all of the millions of illegal immigrants currently in the country.52
Energy & Environment
He has favored increasing oil and gas exploration and signed legislation imposing a freeze on the state’s renewable energy mandate.53 He also signed a bill allowing oil and gas drilling in Ohio state parks and other state-owned land and signed a letter urging Obama to sign legislation passed by Congress approving construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. 54
Kasich has suggested climate change may be a problem, but he has said it’s unwise to try to limit carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. while China, India, and other countries don’t limit theirs.55 He has also called climate change “some theory that’s not proven.”56 He opposes EPA regulation of coal-fired power plants emissions of carbon dioxide.57
In Congress he voted against implementation of the Kyoto protocol, which would have imposed stringent regulations and limits on energy use.
In Congress Kasich voted to increase renewable energy research.
Banking & Finance
Kasich voted, along with a majority of both Republicans and Democrats in the House, to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act’s Depression-era regulations on banks. Although he had left Congress before Sarbanes-Oxley was passed, he criticized the law for harming American businesses and characterized it as a government overreaction.58
Kasich voted for an amendment prohibiting agricultural funding for tobacco subsidies. He also supported amendments broadly limiting price controls for a host of agricultural goods.
Kasich’s track record on corporate welfare is spotty. As a U.S. representative in the 1990s, John Kasich led the charge against corporate welfare. Working with Democrats, he brought daylight to the public funds spent to support private enterprises, especially when the provision of those funds had little or no apparent benefit to the public.59
But he also authored hundreds of millions in tax breaks for companies in Ohio, including Ford, American Greetings and Diebold. While the benefit to certain constituencies is fairly obvious, these tax breaks are in many ways the very definition of corporate welfare.60 As governor, Kasich privatized Ohio’s economic development program, turning it into a nonprofit called JobsOhio responsible for doling out incentives and other giveaways to companies in order to either lure them into the state or retain existing operations.61 The nonprofit receives the profits from Ohio’s state-owned liquor operations for distribution to companies chosen for subsidies.62
In 1995 as chair of the Budget Committee he rejected a proposal to defund the Export-Import Bank.63
Kasich also signed legislation doubling the state’s program providing tax credits to film production companies.64 In 1995 as chair of the Budget Committee he rejected a proposal to defund the Export-Import Bank,65 although he did support ending it in 2015 when Congress considered its re-authorization.66
Kasich has said the U.S. should provide weapons to Ukraine that it can use against Russian-backed separatists. He also said the U.S. should communicate to Putin that an attack on not only NATO members would be regarded as an attack on the U.S. but also that military action against Sweden and Finland would be seen the same way, a potentially dramatic expansion of U.S. defense commitments.69
Kasich has proposed establishing a U.S. agency responsible for promoting Western and “Judeo-Christian” values throughout the world, along the lines of what the Voice of America used to do.72 Key areas he would target for such messages include Russia, China and the Middle East.
Kasich served on the Armed Services Committee throughout his tenure in Congress.
War on Terror
Kasich left Congress before the 9/11 attacks, so he has no voting record to speak of on the war on terror. In February 2015, Kasich did say he would be willing to put U.S. forces on the ground in Iraq to fight against ISIS if they were part of a larger coalition.73 In November 2015 he renewed his call for the U.S. to lead an international coalition to defeat ISIS with ground troops as well as by Kurdish forces in both Syria and Iraq.74
He initially said the U.S. should let in more refugees from Syria, although he also emphasized at the time that potential refugees should be screened to keep out terrorists. He has since said the U.S. should not admit Syrian refugees and has asked the Obama administration not to resettle any in Ohio, citing security concerns after the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015.75 Following those attacks he called for NATO to invoke Article 5, which obligates member states to come to the defense of any other member that has been attacked.76
Asked whether he would have approved the Iraq invasion knowing that there were no weapons of mass destruction, Kasich said he would not have given his approval.77
He is an opponent of the nuclear deal with Iran negotiated by the Obama administration, calling it “bogus” and saying he preferred continued sanctions that would “crush them economically until they change.”78
He indicated that he would reimpose sanctions on Iran at the first sign of violations, and would do so unilaterally if need be79, but does not favor voiding the agreement immediately after becoming president.80 He also urged Senate Republicans to use the “nuclear option” regarding the deal, meaning changing the rules so a filibuster can’t be mounted against it and a resolution of disapproval can pass with only 51 votes.81
He authorized Ohio National Guard personnel at recruitment centers to carry firearms shortly after an apparent terrorist attack in Tennessee targeting military recruitment facilities.82
Military Preparedness & Budget
In keeping with his efforts to limit budgets, Kasich joined with liberal Democrats in an effort to halt production of the B-2 bomber83 over the objections of then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney. In July 2015 he said he favored rebuilding the U.S. military, including increasing the number of ships in the Navy while also upgrading the nation’s nuclear weapons.84
He has called for an expanded Navy of 356 ships, far more are currently in service, increasing the number of carrier groups from 10 to 15.85
Judiciary & Crime
Kasich has a thin track record in terms of the judiciary, having never served in the U.S. Senate. Judges are generally elected in Ohio, but the governor does make appointments in cases where a judgeship is empty. He has had one appointment to the Ohio Supreme Court who is perceived to be conservative and who successfully argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court that taxpayer dollars in the form of vouchers for school students could be used at private and religious schools.86
Kasich has said he has a litmus test for judicial nominees in that he wouldn’t appoint pro-choice judges.87
Kasich said he was “disappointed” in the Supreme Court’s ruling in King v. Burwell (Obamacare tax credits)88 and prior to the court issuing its opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges (same-sex marriage) he pledged to “abide by” the court’s decision.89 Following the court’s decision, Kasich stated that he believes “in traditional marriage, but the court has ruled and it’s time to move on.”90 The lead plaintiff in the case, Jim Obergefell, is an Ohio resident, and the case was brought against Richard Hodges, the director of Ohio’s Department of Public Health, who was appointed to that position by Kasich. Kasich was also one of the original defendants in the case.91
In response to recent public outcry over civilian deaths at the hands of police officers, Kasich has established a new task force on community and police relations. Though the task force is in its infancy, it is slated to listen, research, and make policy recommendations to state and local leaders.92 He has expressed support for equipping police offices with body cameras.93 While Kasich supports the death penalty, he also signed into law a bill that will allow judges to sentence nonviolent offenders to halfway houses, as opposed to prison.94
Kasich has said decision-making over roads, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure should be made at the state and local level, not in Washington, D.C. Toward that end he proposes to eliminate the federal gasoline tax and have state and local governments replace it with their own taxes and tolls.95
In the March 2016 GOP debate held in Detroit, Kasich rejected a suggestion that the federal government ought to bail out the city’s failing schools, saying that “fixing schools rests at the state and the local level, and particularly at the school board level.”96
Free Speech & Religious Liberty
Kasich has generally supported religious liberty and has voiced support for constitutional amendments in favor of school prayer.97 But in the Feb. 25 debate in Houston, he seemed to suggest religious liberty does not extend to business owners, saying, “If you’re in the business of selling things, if you’re not going to sell to somebody you don’t agree with, OK, today I’m not going to sell to somebody who’s gay, and tomorrow maybe I won’t sell to somebody who’s divorced. I mean, if you’re in the business of commerce, conduct commerce.”98 He backed off that statement somewhat in early March, saying he didn’t want the law to be used to force someone to participate in something they have a religious objection to, although he also said he didn’t want to see another law passed protecting the right of someone not to participate.99
While he has not been outspoken on the issue of campaign finance reform, Kasich did vote against a bill prohibiting so-called “soft money” contributions to political parties and generally seems to have voted against efforts to limit the First Amendment right to spend and contribute money in politics.100
On education, Kasich is generally seen as a reformer. He voted to double funding for school choice initiatives as governor through Ohio’s voucher program.101 He has also advocated for merit pay for teachers102 and has increased spending on charter schools in Ohio while also pledging improved oversight.103 He is a supporter of Common Core education standards.104
Kasich has staked out pro-life positions throughout his career. As governor he signed bills banning late-term abortions,105 denying state funding to Planned Parenthood,106 and increasing regulations on abortion clinics.107 As a member of Congress he consistently received the highest possible ratings from the National Right to Life Committee.108
Kasich describes himself as a supporter of the Second Amendment and an individual’s right to own firearms, but his record in Congress has sometimes angered gun-rights supporters. As a member of Congress in 1994, Kasich voted in favor of the assault weapons ban, although he later stated he thought the bill did not accomplish its goals.109 He also supported mandatory background checks at gun shows,110 and as a result received an “F” from the NRA in 1999.111 He fared much better in his 2010 gubernatorial campaign, receiving a “B” (although his Democratic opponent received an “A” grade) and received an “A” in his 2014 re-election.112 He has voiced some support for preventing individuals on the government’s “no fly” and terror watch lists from being able to purchase firearms, although he also said it could tip off individuals that they are under surveillance.113 Most gun-rights advocates oppose this policy over concerns about the lists’ accuracy and lack of due-process protections.
Kasich is a supporter of traditional marriage and supported the Ohio attorney general’s defense of the state’s marriage law,114 but after the Supreme Court ruling establishing same-sex marriage as a constitutional right he declared it was time to “move on”115 and suggested there were other important issues that should take precedence. He also stated it was important the views of religious institutions be respected, apparently a recognition that the ruling could be used to force religious entities to either abandon their beliefs or be punished for withholding support for same-sex marriage.
Kasich voted for the original Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a member of Congress in 1993,116 and in early 2015 suggested he would like to see a similar law passed in Ohio to protect the conscience rights of citizens.117
He has said of a Kentucky county clerk refusing to issue marriage licenses because same-sex marriage violates her religious beliefs, “I respect the fact that this lady doesn’t agree, but she’s also a government employee. She’s not running a church.”118
He is a supporter of affirmative action programs, touting Ohio’s set-aside program that reserves 15 percent of all government contracts for minority-owned businesses – a program that he not only oversees currently but for which he voted as a state legislator in 1980.119
Kasich’s previous tenure at Lehman Brothers will likely become fodder for attack ads in both the Republican presidential nomination process and the general election if he gets the Republican nod. The timing of his stint with the company couldn’t have been worse, as it coincided with the collapse of the company, which is seen as having set in motion the wheels of the 2008 financial crisis.
While he has been willing to take on the teachers unions in his home state on a host of issues, his early support for Common Core is likely to be unpopular with many Republican primary voters.
Kasich’s straightforward, blue-collar rhetoric will undoubtedly appeal to a large swath of voters. However, it will just as undoubtedly provide fodder for his opponents, who have already cited his blunt demeanor. In one instance, he wrote a nasty response to a constituent who called him a “red-neck,” and he also called a police officer an “idiot” during a routine traffic stop. He apologized in both instances.120
In spite of his traditionally conservative political stances, he has endured criticism from Tea Party groups in his home state. In particular, his faith-based justifications for expanding certain entitlements has drawn their ire.121 His Second Amendment track record will leave much to be desired for many conservatives, and the NRA went so far as to endorse his opponents. Failure to shift on this issue will have major political ramifications.
A series of minor controversies followed Kasich. He accepted $50,000 per year from Ohio State University to lecture on campus six to 10 times annually. Then-Gov. Ted Strickland made hay out of the issue in 2010. 122
More recently, Kasich’s lieutenant governor has seen two staff resign over falsified time sheets. The time sheets didn’t match up with parking records and constituted a violation of rules governing flexible office hours. One of the departing employees cited a “hostile work environment” as the reason for the violation.123
Kasich’s name recognition sits below 30 percent, according to recent polling. In spite of his lengthy congressional track record, he never achieved national acclaim for his signature legislation. This likely explains his poor fundraising track record to date and is something he will have to overcome in seeking the presidency.
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