Republican presidential candidate John Kasich campaigned Wednesday in heavily Democratic Maryland, making a push for support among Republican primary voters after recent polls showed him doing better in the state than in many other places.
The Ohio governor, who has won only his home state during the GOP nominating contest so far, held a town hall meeting in Republican-friendly Howard County, telling the crowd of at least 400 that he is the only level-headed candidate left in a contest that also includes boisterous billionaire Donald Trump and ultra-conservative Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.).
“I was like the guy in the minor leagues throwing a fastball 95 miles per hour, but I never got to pitch because I wouldn’t throw at the batter’s head,” he said.
Recent polls have shown Kasich with relatively strong support in Maryland, where Gov. Larry Hogan (R) is garnering the highest approval ratings of any governor since at least 1998. The state’s primary is April 26.
Kasich was in second place in a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll this month, with 31 percent of likely GOP voters in the state supporting him compared with 41 percent for Trump and 22 percent for Cruz.
But a NBC4-Marist poll showed Kasich trailing both of his GOP counterparts. He is pitching himself as an experienced and effective chief executive who can cut through partisan gridlock.
“I think Maryland voters look at their current governor, a practical conservative who is focused on the economy and fiscal issues and getting things done, and that’s what Governor Kasich is about,” said Kasich spokesman Chris Schrimpf.
“He’s not about getting people fired up. He’s about getting things fixed.”
Hogan, a supporter of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a former presidential candidate, has no plans to endorse or meet with Republican presidential candidates before the primary, aides said
Kasich’s message on Wednesday mixed populism with fiscal conservatism, as he talked about growing up in a working-class Democratic family — his father was a postal carrier and his grandfather was a coal miner who died of black lung disease — and said he would shrink the government and give more power to the states if elected president.
“When the debt goes up, your chances of getting a job go down,” he said. “With economic growth and a restrained budget, we can get to a balanced budget.”
Among those who attended the town hall was Laurel resident Kathy Mayer, 58, a political independent who has voted for both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton but is now leaning toward Bernie Sanders.
“I need to see that they’re honest and not beholden to anybody and that they’re looking out for what middle-class people need,” she said.
Annapolis resident Gloria Wilkinson, 65, said she has made up her mind to back Kasich.
“He has an upbeat, positive message,” she said.
“Right now, we have a situation where it’s all or nothing, Democrat or Republican. We need to work together.”
At least eight Republican elected officials from Maryland attended the town hall event, including Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman, Sen. Johnny Ray Salling (Baltimore County) and Del. Ric Metzgar (Baltimore County).
Earlier in the day, Kasich held a fundraiser with former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
At Leisure World in Silver Spring, former president Bill Clinton campaigned for his wife, Hillary Clinton. Both Hillary Clinton and Sanders have launched television ads in Maryland in advance of the Democratic primary.
Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.