WALL STREET JOURNAL: Ohio Governor John Kasich Weighs Jumping Into 2016 Fray
As originally appearing in The Wall Street Journal


MANCHESTER, N.H.—Ohio Gov. John Kasich is thinking about running for president, but he faces a question: In the crowded field of Republicans preparing to run, is there room for one more?

Mr. Kasich on Tuesday came to New Hampshire, home of the first-in-the-nation primary, to test the waters for his distinctive brand of Republicanism. His style has more in common with the “compassionate conservatism” of George W. Bush than the combative conservatism of Sen. Ted Cruz, who Monday became the first major candidate to formally enter the 2016 race.

The Ohio governor spoke at “Politics and Eggs,” a breakfast institution that is a familiar stop for presidential candidates. He also toured a community college.

“I’m an unorthodox politician, because I’m an ordinary person in a big job,’’ said Mr. Kasich, appearing tieless and sporting a spiky haircut.

Mr. Kasich is known as a social conservative and fiscal hawk. He has been traveling the country to urge state legislatures to pass a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, and in his first term he promoted an effort to limit the bargaining powers of public-sector unions, which failed. Those stances put him in step with the party base.

But his record also has policy land mines that could blow up in a Republican primary. Mr. Kasich engineered the expansion of Medicaid in Ohio under the 2010 health-care law; he has supported the national education standards known as Common Core; and he has said he is willing to consider offering a pathway to citizenship for people in the U.S. illegally.

Besides weighing how primary voters will view him, Mr. Kasich must decide whether to enter a field that already has a union-fighting Midwestern governor—Scott Walker of Wisconsin—and, in former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a candidate with conservative credentials who has also challenged party orthodoxy.

Mr. Kasich told reporters that he wasn’t in New Hampshire to find a political niche. “I’m not here to distinguish myself from anybody else,’’ he said. “You ever play golf? Play your game.’’

The visit was the latest in a series of moves by Mr. Kasich suggesting presidential ambitions. He took a stab at a White House campaign in 1999 but dropped out rather run against Mr. Bush.

“I’m not ready to make a decision,’’ he said Tuesday. “This is not cat and mouse. All my options are on the table.”

The risk of his wait-and-see attitude is that the likely GOP field is already packed, and many contenders are much further along in fundraising and building staff. Addressing the issue, Mr. Kasich said that he has a substantial political and donor base in his home state alone. “I’m in Ohio, and it’s a big state,” he said.

Some Republicans believe that there is still time and political space for Mr. Kasich or others to jump in because there is no apparent front-runner. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll in early March found that more than a quarter of registered Republicans who expect to vote in a GOP primary said they were dissatisfied with the field of likely candidates.

Mr. Kasich has said that as governor he has cut taxes and presided over an improving economy. His landslide re-election victory in 2014, in which he won 86 of the state’s 88 counties, came against a weak Democratic opponent but would nonetheless be an important selling point in a national race, because Ohio is such a crucial building block in the Electoral College.

Some of his associates say privately that a Kasich candidacy could be hampered by a blunt personality that some people find abrasive. But others see those qualities as a potential asset among voters looking for authenticity.

“He doesn’t talk like a politician—he’s honest,” said Christopher Shays, a former House colleague who drove hundreds of miles to hear Mr. Kasich at the breakfast. “He’s honest. Some people take it to be arrogance. But it’s just honest.”

But even his admirers say that, as a candidate, he may have to show more focus and discipline. “He’ll need to show he can deliver a speech with guard rails and a destination,” said Rich Ashooh, a GOP activist who attended the breakfast.

There, Mr. Kasich began to answer some of the tougher questions that presidential candidates face. Asked about Social Security by a representative of the AARP, the seniors’ lobby, he said that entitlements will “have to be changed,’’ and that any candidate who doesn’t address that is “not fit for office.”

Asked about his foreign policy, Mr. Kasich signaled a willingness to commit U.S. combat troops to the fight against militant group Islamic State, also known as ISIS: “If it means U.S. boots on the ground, so be it.”

Write to Janet Hook at janet.hook@wsj.com

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