On Tuesday, John Kasich became the 16th Republican candidate to declare his intentions to run for president.
Kasich, the current governor of Ohio, has a strong record on the economy in his home state, ostensibly turning a budget deficit into a surplus of $2 billion in four years. He also cut taxes for smaller businesses, reduced personal income tax in the state, and expanded health care options under the Affordable Care Act.
But the former Lehman Brothers executive who also served as a congressman and chairman of the House Budget Committee, where he had a reputation as a fiscal hawk, has his work cut out for him. He faces an extremely crowded field where the loudest, most outrageous candidates are currently garnering the most attention. Kasich, who also ran briefly in 2000, also faces four Democratic candidates, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Kasich, too, has the reputation for being brash and outspoken at times, but he has cast himself in the image of Ronald Reagan, tending to project a sunny optimism in his public appearances. And though he is a social conservative who opposes liberal causes like abortion and same-sex marriage, he also has a reputation for working across the aisle to reach a compromise.
“There are a lot of people in America today who are not sure that that American Dream is possible and that it is alive, and I can understand their concerns,” Kasich said during a morning speech at Ohio State, his alma mater. “And guess what, I am here to ask you for you prayers and for your support and for your efforts as I have decided to run for president of the United States.”
Kasich is expected to make much of his record on the economy, building it into a keystone of his campaign, political experts say. “He passed a budget and cut taxes, but he also reached an agreement on Obmacare and expanding Medicaid,” says Jim Kessler, senior vice president for policy and co-founder of Third Way, a centrist policy think tank in Washington, D.C. “And he’s found a way to lead the state without just ramming things through a conservative legislature.”
Still, there may be some question on just how much credit he is owed. When Kasich came to office in 2011, the state had, by some accounts, a budget deficit of $8 billion. Yet the state’s current good fortunes, some opponents say, are the result of its previous governor, Thomas Strickland, a Democrat, who successfully delayed tax cuts in 2010 that provided the state with additional revenues.
Ohio’s job recovery has pretty much kept track with the national recovery, with unemployment at about 5.2 percent. Yet its total number of 5.4 million jobs is still about five percentage points lower than in pre-recession years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But on issues like providing health care, Kasich has managed to find something of a middle ground. While he refused to create a state exchange for health care under the ACA, he also opposed conservatives in the state legislature by proposing to expand Medicaid coverage to 600,000 poor Ohioans in 2013.
And as opposed to the tough anti-union stance of Scott Walker, who announced his candidacy earlier in July, Kasich’s anti-union views have evolved. Following an early defeat on a bill that would have limited the collective bargaining power of the state’s public employees, he has walked back from a hardline stance against unions, which is important in a state that still relies significantly on its manufacturing base. In June, he also told local news outlets that Ohio doesn’t need so-called Right to Work laws, which gut union dues raising and bargaining abilities.
Still, Kasich lacks the name brand recognition of other opponents, like Donald Trump and Walker. In a Washington Post presidential poll conducted between July 16 and July 19, Trump led the Republican field with 24 percent of likely voters. Walker notched 13 percent, and Bush 12 percent. Kasich garnered just 2 percent of the vote, which could be considered impressive, considering Kasich hadn't declared at the time of the poll.
In the end, Kasich might make a better vice presidential candidate, balancing out the more extreme views of some of the other contenders likely to grab the presidential spotlight, some political experts say.
“He brings executive experience and legislative experience, and he brings political talent to the table, and that is a really good recipe for vice president,” says John Hudak, a fellow in government studies at Brookings Institution.