Republican presidential candidate John Kasich speaks to voters at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C., on Feb. 18, 2016. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

FORT MILL, S.C. – As the sun set over the Sun City retirement community here Thursday night, Republican presidential candidate John Kasich was, as ever, sunny.

Looking to spring a surprise in the South Carolina primary, Kasich said he prefers movies with happy endings. Though Donald Trump’s anger-fueled candidacy is dominating polls in the state, Kasich offered an alternate vision.

“We’re constantly bombarded about how bad things are in America,” he said. “Come on. Let’s get out of this stupor.”

On a chilly night, Kasich addressed a few hundred bundled-up voters on a knoll outside the clubhouse at Sun City Carolina Lakes, an upscale, master-planned retirement community near the North Carolina border.

Most state polls show Kasich running far behind Trump, as well as Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida. He appears to be playing for fourth place at best, though Kasich is hopeful to finish ahead of former Florida governor Jeb Bush. Kasich and his advisers think that would give him a rationale and momentum to carry on into March contests in more favorable states like Michigan.

Bathed in floodlights as the sun was setting, Kasich remarked that he felt like he was on a Hollywood movie set. He made a warm, folksy presentation, weaving anecdotes and asides into his pitch about fiscal and national security policy.

Referring to the need to undo the raft of federal regulations under President Obama, Kasich said, “I don’t know how many of you ever saw the movie ‘Christmas Vacation.’ You remember when Chevy Chase handed all those lights to his son – ‘Here, kids, unravel those, would ya?’”

In deliberate contrast to Trump, Kasich is presenting a wholly positive message, saying we need to “get the glue back” in society.

“We need a more connected America,” he told the audience.