Ohio's John Kasich, a blunt governor who embraces conservative ideals but disdains the political sport of bashing Hillary Rodham Clinton, on Tuesday became the 16th notable Republican to enter the 2016 presidential race.
The second-term governor and former congressman declared his candidacy at Ohio State University, where as a freshman political science major in 1970, he audaciously wrote a letter that landed him a 20-minute audience with President Richard Nixon.
He joins an unusually diverse Republican lineup, with two Hispanics, an African-American, one woman and several younger candidates alongside older white men such as Kasich, 63, and Jeb Bush, 62. The field is so crowded, it's unclear whether Kasich will qualify for the GOP's first debate, in his home state in two weeks.
"How did we end up with 20 people running for president?" Kasich asks with a smile in a video recently released by his political action committee. He cites his experience with the federal budget, national security and his leadership of Ohio. "Of all those people running, there's not one that has experience in all those critical three areas."
Kasich ran for president once before, briefly seeking the 2000 Republican nomination after he helped seal a federal balanced budget deal as House Budget Committee chairman in 1997. Since then, he has put in nearly a decade as an investment executive and more than four years of strong-willed and often abrasive leadership as governor.
He delivered his announcement speech from notes but without a teleprompter, in line with his unscripted personality.
Kasich once told lobbyists to figuratively get on his bus or he would run them over and called a police officer an "idiot." He helped erase a budget deficit projected at nearly $8 billion when he entered office. He boosted Ohio's rainy-day fund to a historic high and saw private-sector employment rebound to its prerecession level, often through budget cutting, privatization of parts of Ohio's government and other, often business-style innovations.
Unions that turned back an effort by Kasich and fellow Republicans to limit public workers' collective bargaining rights say that his successes have come at a cost to local governments and schools and that new Ohio jobs lack the pay and benefits of the ones they replaced. They planned a protest outside Tuesday's launch.
Kasich has demonstrated a willingness to buck his party when practical: He departed from Republican orthodoxy to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
He has spent the year testing his scrappy political style around the country, for part of that time as chief spokesman for a national effort to pass a federal balanced-budget constitutional amendment. It remains to be seen how his risky habit of working without a script will play in the 24/7 hothouse of presidential politics.
Even so, he signaled early on that he wasn't interested in piling on Clinton, the leading Democratic contender, or President Barack Obama, a ritual almost as ingrained as the Pledge of Allegiance at Republican gatherings. Asked at a New Hampshire forum to give three reasons Clinton would make a bad president, he declined and said briskly, "If I've got to spend my time trashing people to be successful in this, you can count me out."
He has largely lived up to that, at least so far. But when Clinton accused other GOP governors of trying to disenfranchise voters by limiting early ballots and requiring photo ID to vote, he grew exasperated. "What is she talking about?" he asked. "Don't be running around the country dividing America."
A fixture on Sunday talk shows and at onetime a Fox commentator, Kasich faces an immediate challenge to qualify for the first Republican debate. That face-off takes place next month in Cleveland, and only the top 10 candidates in national polling will be invited.
No Republican has won the White House without carrying Ohio.
In recent months, he has made trips to New Hampshire, South Carolina, Iowa, New York and Michigan and will be returning to early voting states after his announcement. His allies at the political organization New Day for America reported raising $11.5 million on his behalf before his entry into the race.
Kasich was born in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, the son of a mail carrier and a grandchild of Hungarian, Czech and Croatian immigrants. At Ohio State, he wrote to Nixon praising his leadership and seeking a meeting that would be "a dream come true." The president obliged, and Kasich flew to Washington for a chat and handshake in the Oval Office. In 1978 he launched his political career by defeating an incumbent Democrat to become the youngest person elected to the Ohio Senate, at 26.
"I'm a normal person," he said this year, “but that makes me unorthodox in politics.”
The Associated Press