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  •   Kasich Launches Exploratory Panel

    Rep. John Kasich (R-Ohio) talks with Doug Rozendaal, right, during a visit to Iowa on Sept. 3, 1998. (AP)
    By Ceci Connolly
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, January 14, 1999; Page A4

    Rep. John R. Kasich (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Budget Committee, took the first steps toward a presidential run yesterday, filing the paperwork that allows him to begin raising money and assessing his prospects in a growing Republican field.

    In documents filed at the Ohio secretary of state's office, Kasich opened an exploratory committee for the 2000 contest. Aides said he is expected to formally declare his candidacy in late spring.

    The 46-year-old son of a mailman and prote»ge» of former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) is promising a high-energy, high-tech, populist campaign that he hopes can overcome his expected disadvantage against several Republicans with extensive fund-raising networks.

    "Iowa and New Hampshire are ideal circumstances for somebody to be able to do grass roots, communicate a message and be able to break out," Kasich said in an interview. "My strength is never from the establishment. I'll get people who are in the establishment but I'm not really an establishment person. It's possible for me to get additional new people energized inside the party."

    Despite receiving favorable reviews in 1997 for crafting the plan that helped produce the federal government's first balanced budget in 29 years, Kasich is virtually unknown on the national political scene and already faces some big-name GOP opponents. But his strategists believe he can find a niche.

    "Kasich is different from the rest of the field in both style and substance," said adviser Ed Gillespie. "He has a record of opposing corporate welfare, opposing pork-barrel spending in the Pentagon and the transportation bill and he fought to eliminate spending on the B-2 [bomber] because it is wasteful."

    Kasich also supported a ban on assault weapons, breaking with his party leadership. And while he is antiabortion, he has softened his rhetoric on the divisive issue, potentially making him more appealing to moderates.

    With the help of Massachusetts GOP activist James Rappaport, Kasich aims to raise $18.5 million, although his team is searching for creative low-budget ways to win press attention and grass-roots support. "He can communicate via the Internet in a way other candidates can't," said Gillespie. "It's a very cost-effective way to communicate."

    Stan Huckaby, a Republican consultant to several presidential candidates, estimates the most viable contenders in 2000 will need to raise $22 million this year. Over the past two years, Kasich brought in $3.6 million for his congressional campaign and his political action committee, Pioneer PAC.

    Kasich said he has $1.5 million in the bank that he will transfer to a presidential campaign account and that a handful of prominent Ohio business people, such as Wendy's International Inc. founder Dave Thomas, are helping to raise money. "I have been calling people, giving them [money] numbers and asking them if they would meet the numbers," he said. "This is a mission I've chosen to pursue; I would not do this if it was an unrealistic proposition."

    With the first caucuses still more than a year away, the GOP lineup is getting larger by the day. Former Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander and Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Robert C. Smith (N.H.) have taken steps to begin their campaigns. Other potential Republican contenders include former vice president Dan Quayle, conservative activist Gary Bauer, Red Cross president Elizabeth Hanford Dole, magazine publisher Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes and Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

    The hyperkinetic, boyish Kasich does not have a natural constituency among Republican primary voters, but his strategists believe he can attract a mix of budget hawks, baby boomers and evangelical Christians. Even his ex-wife's mother votes for him, according to local newspapers.

    Kasich, who says he renewed his faith after both his parents were killed in a car accident, was well received by several hundred members of the Christian Coalition meeting in Atlanta in 1997. As a run-up to his campaign, he wrote a book, "Courage Is Contagious: Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things to Change the Face of America." He has been making the rounds of television and radio shows promoting the book and trying to raise his own public profile.

    First elected to the House in 1982 from a Columbus-area district, Kasich has been able to move easily from various factions within the GOP, building friendships with the young revolutionaries in the party and many fiscally conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats. Yet others have been put off by his damn-the-torpedoes style.

    In a 1997 New Yorker interview, he dismissed "Washington fuddy-duddy stiffs" who criticize him for lacking gravitas. "I like baseball, I swear a lot. I like Pearl Jam – and I have a personal relationship with God. But I think he likes Pearl Jam too."

    Researcher Ben White contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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