Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has been actively gauging reactions to a possible campaign for president in 2016, is now moving rapidly to assemble the staff and financial resources for such a bid and is looking to declare his candidacy sometime after June 30, according to knowledgeable Republicans.
The two-term governor and former House member is running through a checklist before formally entering the race, but strategists close to Kasich and other longtime friends say there is no doubt that he will soon join the crowded field of those vying for the GOP nomination.
Kasich’s calling cards, these Republicans say, will be a record of fiscal conservatism, both as House Budget Committee chairman and as governor of a big and politically important state; national security credentials as a former member of the House Armed Services Committee; and a faith-based focus on programs and policies to help those most in need that advisers think could set him apart from competitors.
“I’m not worried about standing out,” Kasich said in a recent interview. “What I have over the rest of the field is experience that no one else has — national security, legislative and now I’m the executive.”
If he runs, Kasich, 63, would join at least 16 other declared candidates by the time of the first debate in August, including half a dozen current or former governors. The timing of Kasich’s announcement is tied to his desire to assure himself that he is prepared to run a competitive race.
“Ultimately, it’s a personal decision,” said former senator John E. Sununu (N.H.), who has signed on as a director of the New Day committee that Kasich formed as he explores a candidacy. “It’s making sure it’s right for your family, that you know you can win and that you know you can put the right team around you to execute a successful campaign. I think those pieces will come together in a matter of weeks, enabling Governor Kasich to make the right decision.”
An adviser to Kasich, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid, said there are “a couple more internal things we have to figure out. If we hit some internal goals, which we’re on pace to do, he’s going to run. . . . The only thing that would stop him is if for some reason the money dries up. But I think it’s going to be fine.”
The Kasich organization will wait until the end of June for a final financial assessment.
Kasich briefly ran for the GOP nomination in 2000 but dropped out of the race in 1999 after not gaining traction. “I didn’t get scared out, I got destroyed out,” he said recently. “I had no money and no oxygen.”
Robert Walker, who served in the House with Kasich and is offering advice now, said, “He learned in 2000 that you have to check off a lot of boxes to do this, and he’s methodically checking off those boxes. But he has been very, very pleased with the reception he’s gotten.”
Kasich’s inner circle already is operating on the assumption that he will declare his candidacy soon. His advisers are speaking to various Republican consultants about senior roles in a campaign. He has signed on Linda DiVall, a longtime GOP pollster, as an adviser to New Day, according to two Republicans. She would presumably make the transition to campaign pollster if he enters the race.
Kasich’s advisers are reviewing ballot access rules and regulations in the states and assembling staffs in some of the states with early contests. Earlier this week, his committee announced that Paul Collins, a longtime New Hampshire strategist and former chief of staff to Sununu, would head up operations there.
Kasich has so far concentrated on New Hampshire and South Carolina, with Iowa a lesser priority, although advisers said no final decision about campaigning hard in Iowa has been made. “I haven’t been to Iowa,” he said flatly in the recent interview.
Kasich is in South Carolina this week and is scheduled to be in New Hampshire next week. “You can run in New Hampshire like you’re running for Congress,” he said in the interview. “You can get all over the state. It’s ideal, it’s the perfect state for somebody like me.”
Kasich advisers say his principal competition would come from former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.). They consider Bush potentially hobbled by resistance to a third president from the same family. Walker, another two-term Midwestern governor, has less experience in national security.
Asked in the recent interview whether his message would be similar to Bush’s, Kasich said, “I don’t know anything about [Bush’s theme]. I really don’t. I’ve never listened to him. What’s “Right to Rise”? Getting up in the morning?”
Right to Rise is the name of Bush’s super PAC.
Kasich advisers view Rubio as having significant potential but faced with the problem of being a first-term senator who would be trying to follow a first-term senator — President Obama — to the White House. “We hired an inexperienced person to run the country,” a Kasich adviser said. “That didn’t work out very well. That plays well in his [Kasich’s] favor.”
Kasich, who defeated a sitting governor in 2010 and easily won reelection last November, has received considerable attention for declaring that he would like to chart a new course for the Republican Party, one that is more compassionate and less confrontational. Republicans who know him well say they think he would present himself as a problem-solving fiscal conservative who helped balance the federal budget as a House member and who erased a sizable deficit in Ohio.
“I’ve always said the party is my vehicle and not my master,” he said. “I’m a Republican, I’m a conservative, but I want to talk to people about what I think will help the country.”
But the governor also has a reputation as a mercurial personality and will face questions about whether he has the discipline required of a presidential campaign. Even some of his admirers know he will have to prove his critics wrong. “I think he has an understanding that there are going to be people saying that, and he believes the record he has achieved answers that question,” Robert Walker said.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), whom Kasich worked under as a key lieutenant in the 1990s, said Kasich has “acquired some level of discipline” after successful elections in Ohio. “Whether that makes him viable presidential candidate, we’ll find that out,” Gingrich said. “But anybody who thinks this is the John Kasich you knew back in Washington completely misunderstands how much he’s learned in the last 16 years.”
Although his loyalists consider him a top-tier candidate for the nomination, Kasich falls near the bottom of the field in national polls — a sharp contrast with Bush and Walker, who also have not formally declared their candidacies but who have been more explicit about their intentions than Kasich.
Given his current position, Kasich might not qualify for the first GOP debate, which is scheduled for Aug. 6 in Cleveland. Over the next 60 days, he will need to show greater support to ensure a place on the stage in that first forum.
Kasich said he will talk less about his vision for the future and more about his record. “Everyone can talk about what they want to do, but the most important thing is what have you actually done?” he said. “What have you accomplished? If people are bored by it, well, they’ll have to put up with it while I give them the résumé. They need to know.”