MANCHESTER, N.H. —John Kasich’s first presidential bid fell victim to the Bush family more than a decade ago.
On the eve of his first political appearance in New Hampshire since then, Ohio’s scrappy Republican governor knows history could repeat itself should he challenge former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the GOP’s crowded 2016 field.
“Jeb’s a very formidable political person,” Kasich told The Associated Press before his visit.
Will Kasich run anyway?
“All options are on the table,” he said. “I am the governor of Ohio, and, you know, nobody gets to the White House until they go through Ohio.”
Kasich, 62, a two-term governor in one of the nation’s most important swing states, a former House Budget Committee chairman, Lehman Brothers executive and Fox TV host, reintroduced himself to New Hampshire voters Tuesday at a Politics & Eggs event in Manchester.
He’ll be in Maine, New York, Michigan and the big primary state of South Carolina in coming weeks.
Kasich’s unique approach to politics could be attractive to New Hampshire voters, who value candidates with an independent streak. Kasich, who is unusually blunt at times, is used to doing things his own way.
“I’m a normal person,” he said, “but that makes me unorthodox in politics. When you’re in politics, you’re supposed to act a certain way. I act the way I want to act, I don’t act the way that somebody else tells me to be.”
In the House, he led efforts to balance the federal budget in 1997. After becoming governor in 2011, he closed an $8 billion budget hole by privatizing and merging agencies and reshaping expensive government programs such as Medicaid, schools and prisons and overhauling the tax code to deliver statewide income and small-business tax cuts. He championed a law that restricted public-sector unions’ rights to collectively bargain, although Ohio voters later struck it down at the ballot box.
He also sees himself as an advocate for the poor, defends Common Core education standards, supported Ohio’s Medicaid expansion as part of the President Barack Obama’s health care law, and won’t rule out a pathway to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally as part of an immigration overhaul. That puts him to the center compared with many conservative potential rivals, if roughly in line with Bush on education, immigration and more.
Kasich is little known in New Hampshire, which holds the nation’s first presidential primary early next year. Some local GOP officials struggle to identify Kasich’s home state when asked. Recent polling suggests that 7 in 10 New Hampshire voters don’t have an opinion of him.
“I don’t think people know who he is,” said former state GOP chairman Fergus Cullen, who held an event for Bush earlier in the month. “But I think he’s a credible person and a credible candidate.”
Kasich briefly sought the 2000 presidential nomination when then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush emerged as a force in Republican politics. Kasich remembers the challenge well.
“First of all I was a congressman, nobody knew who I was,” he said. “Secondly, I didn’t have a big financial base.” Third, “I knew the handwriting was on the wall” pointing to Bush winning.
Today, Kasich says he’s “truly undecided” about running in 2016. But he’s driven to share what he regards as Ohio’s success story outside state lines regardless.
He views Ohio as a political petri dish for ideas he’s incubated for most of his adult life: that economies thrive when budgets balance, that it’s possible for government to help the poor and business while cutting taxes, that politicians who make unpopular choices and defy party pigeonholes can still win elections.
New Hampshire is a “must” stop for serious candidates. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a regular visitor in recent months, on Monday became the first to launch a White House bid. Both Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Bush toured Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina in recent weeks. And Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul returns to New Hampshire later in the week.
Republican John E. Sununu, a former New Hampshire senator and congressman who served with Kasich on the budget committee, said the governor “could immediately become among the strongest candidates in terms of background and experience” if he ran.
Sununu also suggests that Jeb Bush won’t dominate Kasich, or the rest of the Republican primary field, as George W. Bush did in 2000: “I don’t think history will repeat itself.”
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