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Kasich wades into presidential waters, says he’s an unconventional Republican

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) talks to reporters on Friday. (Bryan Dozier/Christian Science Monitor)

Ohio Gov. John Kasich waded into the presidential waters on Friday, casting himself as an unconventional Republican who governs as a compassionate reformer and arguing that among a field of nearly two dozen White House hopefuls, he would stand out as the most experienced.

Although not formally a candidate, Kasich signaled he has the will to run for president in 2016, if not necessarily the resources. The governor said he has been talking to prospective donors to gauge whether, in an historically deep and competitive field of GOP contenders, he can raise the millions of dollars necessary to wage a competitive primary campaign.

"If I don't have the resources and I don't see a path to victory, I'm not going to do that," said Kasich. He's had the presidential bug before, running briefly in 1999 before dropping out in the face of the George W. Bush juggernaut. Kasich boasted of what he sees as unique political strengths -- "I'm a retail guy," he said -- but acknowledged, "Either I got it or I don't." If he calculates that he cannot raise the resources to run, he added jokingly, he could still live out his dream of being a PGA tournament golfer.

Kasich's comments came during an hour-long luncheon with reporters at a downtown Washington hotel hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

Should he run, Kasich said, his campaign would focus on restoring productive relationships -- both among Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill and among the United States and its allies in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere. He said foreign alliances have deteriorated and suggested that the last Bush presidency shared in the blame with President Obama, although he did not cite Bush specifically.

"I think those relationships have eroded over time -- not just with Obama, [but] over time," Kasich said. "We don't have the deep relationships we need in order to be unified and send strong messages."

Kasich sharply criticized Obama's nuclear negotiations with Iran, arguing that the president is so "in love" with getting a deal that he was giving in to the Iranian regime. He compared it to going to a car dealership and "you're so hungry to get that car you'll pay anything for it."

More broadly, Kasich said, "I'm not a believer in nation-building. We should have a military that's mobile, that's lethal, where we can go and exert force and then come home."

Kasich also said he was looking at sweeping changes to the tax code, including reducing the corporate tax rate. He said he has been talking with Steve Forbes, the wealthy publishing executive who ran unsuccessfully for president as a Republican in 1996 and 2000, about his flat tax idea.

Kasich declined to draw contrasts with his potential Republican primary opponents; when one reporter asked him to compare his record in Ohio with Gov. Scott Walker's in Wisconsin and Gov. Rick Snyder's in Michigan, he snapped, "I'm not going to take your bait." But he suggested that being the governor of the premier general election battleground state gave him an edge. "You can't be president if you don't win Ohio," Kasich said.

Kasich has made a mark with his efforts to lift up Ohio's poorest residents. He expanded Medicaid in his state, a move that drew the ire of some fellow Republican governors, and has enacted mental health, criminal justice and educational programs designed to help what he calls people living in the shadows.

"My view of it is all people are made in the image of God and everybody deserves respect," he said. "To me, there's no lost human beings."

On the issue of gay rights, which has left many Republican leaders twisted in rhetorical knots, Kasich voiced some openness to accepting same-sex marriages as legal.

"I am for marriage defined as between a man and a woman," Kasich said. "If the Supreme Court changes that, those changes have to be respected. I have a number of friends who are gay. I like them."

Asked whether he would attend a friend or relative's gay marriage, Kasich said he would. "I don't usually go to weddings of people that I don't know, okay? I don't go to 'em. But if somebody that I like is getting married in the traditional sense or in the non-traditional sense, I'm not hung up about it. I'll be celebrating with them."