GOFFSTOWN, NEW HAMPSHIRE – John Kasich says he’s regular guy who speaks his mind.
As for his sometimes blunt style: “If somebody asks me a question on Social Security, I’m going to try to answer it as best I can. Because I’ve got one life to live here on this earth and I’m just going to try to answer the questions, be direct, be a leader," he said. "That doesn’t mean to be rude or to be in a position to just where you’re just blunt. I’m not interested in that. But I am interested in trying to solve problems.”
And if people don’t like his answers, “I guess that’s your problem and not mine, because I’m going to do it,” the former nine-term congressman said.
That kind of straight talking-style could help Kasich with New Hampshire Republican primary voters, who twice backed another straight talker, Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Kasich, who’s mulling a second run for the GOP presidential nomination, said this was his first trip back to the first-in-the-nation primary state in 16 years, when he first briefly ran for the White House.
Joking about his unsuccessful bid in the 2000 cycle, Kasich shared a story with the audience of business and political leaders at the event, which is co-hosted by the New England Council and the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College.
“We had this one coffee towards the end of the campaign, and I was in the kitchen with this lady -- I didn’t know her really -- and we were standing at the sink going on about this and that and this, and I was thinking myself ‘this lady, she’s absolutely going to be for me.’ If I can actually run for president, I’ve got her. She looked at her watch and she said ‘I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. When do you think the candidate’s going to get here?’” Kasich said, to laughter.
“It was all over at that point,” he added.
But he pointed out that “I have a lot of fond memories of New Hampshire, the people here were really, really, so nice.”
Kasich was also self-deprecating about his stint last decade as a TV host and commentator.
“Of course you know I was a giant television star at Fox News. I was the star of ‘Heartland.’ I know you want them to bring it back but I’m not available at this point in time,” he said.
Kasich touts Ohio accomplishments
Kasich was elected Ohio governor in 2010, ousting Democratic incumbent Ted Strickland. His gubernatorial record is likely to be be a centerpiece of any potential campaign.
“Almost half of the states in this country are in structural imbalance, did you know that. Some of them run by Republican governors who can’t figure out how to balance their budget. We are totally completely structurally sound in Ohio and we went from $8 billion in the hole to where at the end of this budget cycle we will have a $2 billion surplus in the period of four years,” Kasich said.
“We’ve cut taxes by more than anybody in the entire country, $3 billion in tax cuts. And we’re going to have at least another $500,000 tax cut in this budget,” he added.
Kasich railed against politicians who are obsessed with polls, saying “leaders don’t take polls ladies and gentlemen. You know I try to tell my colleagues in the legislature, you do your job. If you worry about election or re-election, you won’t be doing your job. You do your job, you’re likely to win.”
In his first year as governor, said Kasich “I was at 31 percent approval. Last year we had a little election in Ohio. I won 86 out of 88 counties.... You know why it happened? People felt better. They felt that Ohio was going in the right direction, and they responded to leadership.”
Will he run in 2016?
Asked by reporters if he’s close to making a decision on running for the White House in 2016, Kasich said “all of my options are on the table."
"I’m obviously traveling more. Probably build a little bit more infrastructure. But I’m not ready to make a decision on this and listen, I gotta tell you all. This is not cat and mouse. You decide you want to go for some sort of job like this, it takes a lot. It’s not something you do cavalierly,” he said.
But “I would not get in this if I didn’t think I could win, because if I didn’t think I could win I’m not going to call on my friends, my family, everybody else to break their backs on something that isn’t achievable,” he said.
And asked by NH1 about his ability to raise money to compete in what will be a crowded and expensive GOP presidential primary field, Kasich said “I’m in Ohio and which is a big state, and that gives you certain advantages in raising money.”
“I don’t think I would be in a position to have enough money to run a whole national campaign. But can you raise enough money to get your fighter jets off the deck of the aircraft carrier to go up and see how you’d do. And if you do well there, I think things progress,” he added.
Kasich supports the Common Core educational standards, backs Ohio’s Medicaid expansion as part of Obamacare, and doesn’t rule out a pathway to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants as part of an overall immigration overhaul. Those stances won’t help him the GOP’s conservative base.
But that’s fine with Kasich, who used part of his address to rail against the bitter partisanship that’s brought legislating in the nation’s capital to a virtual halt.
“You think America’s strong when all we do is fight with one another. America’s strong when we’re together,” he said.
“We’re too divided. It’s up to each of us to unite this country. And you know you end polarization by listening. You know we need more empathy, more understand of somebody else’s point of view,” Kasich added.
Busy New Hampshire itinerary
The Politics and Eggs event was Kasich’s second during his two-day swing through the Granite State. He met Monday night with Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas.
Kasich spoke Tuesday afternoon at Nashua Community College to a business roundtable being put on by the college and the Nashua Chamber of Commerce.
Later, the Ohio governor will address Politics and Pies, a new speaking series hosted by the Merrimack County/City of Concord GOP. He'll also hold private meetings with two top state Republican lawmakers, Senate President Chuck Morse and House Speaker Shawn Jasper. He'll also sit down for interviews with New Hampshire media, including a one-on-one interview with NH1 News and the Washington Post. And a source close to the governor tells the Washington Post that Kasich will also say hello to Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan.
Kasich says that regardless of his decision on running for the White House, he wants to be part of the equation.
“Whether I run for president or whether I don’t, I’m not going to go away. I’m not going to fade away. I’m not going to disappear. And I will have things to say. I just want to help my country,” he vowed.