John Kasich Becomes 16th Republican to Join 2016 Race

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Maybe the second time is the charm.Photo: Luke Sharett/© 2015 Bloomberg Finance LP

Ohio Representative John Kasich’s 2000 presidential campaign didn’t last very long. He called himself the “Indiana Jones” of the contest and told reporters that he wasn’t afraid of confronting the less perfect parts of his party: “It’s okay to stand up and tell people in your party that they’re too mean.” He even helped to dig a grave for a potential New Hampshire voter’s dog. (“I can’t imagine Elizabeth Dole or George W. Bush burying my dog.”)

He didn’t even last until the end of July 1999. It wasn’t that his résumé was subpar — Kasich was the House Budget Committee chair during Newt Gingrich’s Contract for America budget-busting days and is from a major swing state — he just couldn’t make himself catchy. Kasich liked to say that he was the Jolt Cola to Bush and Dole’s Coke and Pepsi. Jolt Cola went bankrupt. 

On Tuesday, Governor John Kasich announced at Ohio State University that he is going to try for the White House again. It’s not going to be any easier this time. 

Kasich, who won reelection with nearly 64 percent of the vote, currently has the support of less than 2 percent of Republican primary voters nationally. He is the 16th Republican to announce a presidential campaign. No one knows who he is, and those who do think he is more moderate than Chris Christie, as FiveThirtyEight points out (that’s not a good thing in GOP primary season). No matter that Kasich tried to take on unions just like Wisconsin governor Scott Walker (although he failed), or that he worked as a Fox News host for several years just like Mike Huckabee. Kasich is still that guy telling his party it’s too mean, and that is what he gets attention for. Republican primary voters — who are much more ideologically conservative than general election voters — don’t want to be told they are mean, especially when it involves something they despise, like Obamacare. 

When asked at a Koch Brothers–sponsored conference last year why he was one of the few Republican governors to expand Medicaid, he responded, according to a Politico article titled “John Kasich’s Anger Management,” “I don’t know about you, lady. But when I get to the pearly gates, I’m going to have an answer for what I’ve done for the poor.” Kasich also supports Common Core and worked for now-defunct Lehman Brothers for nearly a decade.

In other words, Kasich is far from an ideal conservative candidate, and the other moderate Republican candidates in the race — and the other governors running pitching themselves as Washington outsiders — have access to far more money than he does. His success on the race seems contingent on having voters quickly decide that they like him better than the other similar candidates they already know. Kasich’s gubernatorial record is shinier than many of his counterparts’ — his constituents still mostly like him, and he has gotten a few conservative gold stars for erasing a nearly $8 billion budget deficit in the state. On top of that, the media mostly like him, something that never hurts in a presidential race — especially when no one knows who you are. 

Unfortunately for Kasich, only ten candidates are going to be able to introduce themselves on a national level at the first GOP debates next month, and right now, it doesn’t look like the Ohio governor is going to be one of them — even though it would be very easy for him to travel to the first debate in Cleveland on August 6. The New York Times explained how those last few spots in the first debate are up in the air at this point, since so many of the many candidates are one-percenters. 

Kasich was optimistic in his announcement speech today, where he spoke to about 4,000 supporters. However, he also acknowledged that he could use all the help he can get. “I am here to ask you for your prayers, for your support … because I have decided to run for president of the United States.”

Newt Gingrich, who helped jump-start Kasich’s career and is knowledgeable about the fickleness of elections, agreed that everything about Kasich’s run — heck, the entire race — is completely up in the air. 

John is much more likely to throw an interception than most of the more controlled, consultant-driven candidates,” he told The Wall Street Journal.  He’s also a lot more likely to throw touchdowns. If it all comes together, he’ll be the nominee.”