Ohio's main man could move back to D.C.

Campaign 2016
by Kent Covington & Nick Eicher
Posted 11/12/14, 03:20 pm

This article is the 16th in the White House Wednesday series by The World and Everything in It looking at potential 2016 candidates for president. Earlier installments profiled Republicans Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and Scott Walker, and Democrats Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Andrew Cuomo, Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, and Bernie Sanders.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich has been called “the most formidable 2016 GOP candidate you don’t know.” Last week, he celebrated a crushing reelection victory, beating challenger Ed Fitzgerald by a 31-point margin. 

Kasich was first elected governor four years ago, defeating incumbent Democrat Ted Strickland. But even in 2010, Kasich was no newcomer to big-time politics. The governor doesn’t look his age, 62, but he’s been around the block. A former congressman, he was one of the longest serving chairmen of the House Budget Committee.From 1995 to 2001, Kasich crafted the GOP’s fiscal blueprint for the nation. Republicans later hailed him as the man who put America’s fiscal house in order. 

He was a key figure in the 1995 partial government shutdown. 

“I look back and think it was one of the greatest moments of my career,” Kasich wrote in his book Stand for Something: The Battle for America’s Soul. “Typically, politicians make their decisions based on votes. And yet, in at least this one instance, politicians set aside these concerns and stood up for what was right.” Kasich said that “as a direct result of the shutdown in ’95, Congress wrote a bill that provided for the first balanced budget in nearly 40 years.” 

Before serving nine terms in the U.S. Congress, Kasich was elected to the Ohio state Senate at just 26 years old. And his political ambitions were evident long before that. At age 18, he got a 20-minute meeting with then President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office by giving his college president a note to pass to Nixon at a meeting. 

Some three decades later, Kasich tested the presidential waters, forming an exploratory committee for a White House run in the 2000 election. But when fundraising efforts got nowhere fast, Kasich saw the writing on the wall. Still, he predicted, “I’ll be back. There will be another day.”

And some now wonder if that day may be fast approaching.

Kasich’s first term as governor has been a success, at least in the minds of most Ohioans. It got off to a rocky start with a battle over collective bargaining for public-sector workers that Kasich ultimately lost. His approval rating plummeted to about 40 percent in the spring of 2011, but by the following summer, it was back up to 54 percent.

On his watch, the Buckeye State has gone from an $8 billion budget deficit to a $1.5 billion surplus. It’s been the top job creating state in the Midwest. Ohio’s unemployment rate is at its lowest level in nearly eight years. 

In between his time in Congress and his campaign for governor, he had his own show on Fox News for a while called From the Heartland with John Kasich. He often filled in as host of The O’Reilly Factor. There’s video of him addressing some hot-button issues in a flippant way that likely would pop up in opposition attack ads in a presidential campaign.

Kasich also would have to answer to conservatives for his 1994 vote on an assault weapons ban and his support for background checks at gun shows. In 2010, the National Rifle Association (NRA) actually backed his opponent in the gubernatorial race. Kasich did notsupport gun control measures in his first term as governor and was able to patch things up with the NRA. 

Kasich also was one of a handful of Republican governors who opted to expand Medicaid in their states under Obamacare. 

Those disadvantages not withstanding, he’s a credible candidate. Kasich conceded back in 2000 that it wasn’t his time to run for president. If the time isn’t right after just having won a landslide reelection as governor of the second-most important swing state in the nation, when will it be right? No Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio, and you have to go back about a half-century to find a Democrat who’s done it. If he doesn’t run, or runs but doesn’t win the nomination, Kasich’s area code could help land him on a short list for a vice-presidential pick.

Listen to Kent Covington and Nick Eicher discuss John Kasich’s presidential prospects on The World and Everything in It:

Nick Eicher

Nick lives in St. Louis, loves the Blues (as in the NHL), is executive producer of WORLD Radio, and co-hosts WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickEicher.

Read more from this writer