WESTERVILLE, Ohio — Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) told reporters at his polling site that he would soon be "forced to talk about the way this campaign has been run by some others," stepping up his criticism of front-runner Donald Trump if he bested him in Ohio's primary.
"Today is not the day to do that," said Kasich, after casting a ballot for himself, "[but] I’ve been very concerned. I just saw a commercial, I guess it was last night, of these comments that were made about women. I have two daughters. They see this stuff. What do you think they think? I’ll have more to say about that. But that’s going to be not designed to be negative as much as it is to point out things that I’ve seen that are deeply disturbing in this process."
Kasich, who often draws applause when telling audiences that he's run a "positive campaign," has only fitfully tangled with Trump. He did so jarringly at the third presidential debate, deriding the idea that Trump was "going to ship 10 million Americans — or 10 million people out of this country, leaving their children here in this country and dividing families."
Since then, Kasich has described himself as the candidate who fights "the darkness," and has gone after Trump for telling supporters to punch or otherwise manhandle the protesters that show up at his rallies.
But the "commercial" Kasich was referring to was a last-minute, 60-second ad from Our Principles PAC, the stop-Trump group created belatedly by former Mitt Romney strategist Katie Packer. In the ad, a series of women read Trump's quotes about "flat-chested" and "ugly" women, saying — as Kasich said — that Trump was talking about "our mothers, our sisters, our daughters." On YouTube, the ad clocked more than 820,000 views in just 24 hours.
In Westerville, Kasich said he hadn't truly been aware of the comments until he saw the ad.
"I’m not really paying that much attention to that," he said. "It took for me to see the Friday video, and then I actually 48 hours ago asked [spokesman] Chris Schrimpf to give me a list of all the quotes which I had not really seen before ... so it was really the first time that my eyes were really opened, which meant that I was probably like a normal voter."
In interviews, a half-dozen of the voters trickling in and out of the Westerville polling place were unaware of the ad specifically; they were aware, more generally, of a campaign that had spun off the rails.
"I'm excited to finally have an end to all of this b.s.," said Cheryl Trevethan, 69. "I'm tired of America looking like an a-- in front of the rest of the world. I have family in Ireland who think this whole thing is a joke. I know people in Germany who think this makes America look like a joke, whether you're talking about Hillary, Trump, or whoever."
Not everyone was critical of the tone. Lauri Gillett, 42, voted for Kasich because he'd "done a great job for Ohio," but credited Trump with "bringing a lot of new people into politics."
Kasich, who has occasionally made a bid for the "angry" voters attracted to Trump, was careful to describe his coming attacks. "In terms of rolling around in the mud, that’s not where I intend to ever really go," he said. But he rejected the idea that he was "teasing" a new tone that would only be revealed after Ohio had voted.
"I’m not teasing anything," he said. "I’ll let you know when I have something to say. We don’t do a whole lot of strategic things about what I have to say, if you haven’t noticed. I’m building things up in my mind. I’m thinking."