It's that time in the GOP presidential nominating process where would be candidates for President start making their way down to see the regular folks in South Carolina. Up to now, GOP wannabees have mostly concentrated their visits in the State Capitol, Columbia, to line up support with party big wigs. Now, the more serious are hitting the trail to smaller venues like Hilton Head Island and the Lowcountry where Mike's America lives.
In the past I've covered visits by Newt Gingrich, Michelle Bachmann, Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, George Pataki, Mitt Romney and John McCain. In most of these encounters I take the opportunity to ask the tough question that conservatives considering their primary vote would like to hear the candidate answer.
I open the 2016 cycle with a visit by Ohio Governor John Kasich on Wednesday to a Mexican restaurant on Hilton Head Island. Unlike Hillary Clinton's scripted, invitation only events, this was an overflow crowd of well wishers.
|Governor John Kasich (R-OH). Just as down to earth and real as he was over 30 years ago.|
Photo by Mike's America.
|Kasich wins longshot congressional|
race in 1982 at the age of 30.
Mike's America was there.
Kasich: The American Dream but a Man in a Hurry
Kasich's story goes back to McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, a working class town near Pittsburgh. Kasich didn't come from a family of wealth and privilege. His parents were the children of immigrants from eastern Europe. His father was a mail carrier. His grandfather a coal miner. He went to Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. That's where he got his first real introduction to politics. As a first term freshman he wrangled a meeting with the university president (not an easy feat) which led to an introduction to President Nixon. Despite being told he would have a 5 minute meeting with Nixon the private event went on for 20 minutes. As Kasich joked on Wednesday, it was the most time he's spent in the Oval Office even after being elected to Congress!
By now the political bug was deeply planted. After college Kasich went on to win a seat in the Ohio Senate at the age of 26 in 1978. Four years later he won his first election to Congress. On Wednesday Kasich reminded his audience that he became Chairman of the House Budget Committee and was the architect for a balanced budget that created a rare budget surplus.
As Governor he's restored fiscal sanity to Ohio as well and put the state budget back in the black. But he has faced criticism for cutting income taxes while raising the state sales tax. The voters of Ohio are pretty happy with Kasich. He was re-elected in 2014 in a landslide winning all but two counties including Democrat strongholds that Obama won by large margins. On Wednesday the Governor told us how he put together that bipartisan landslide by working WITH people, not dividing them. He's very proud that he received 26% of the black vote in the same year most Republicans got only 10%.
In a nutshell, that's Kasich's rationale for running for President. He believes he has demonstrated a way to work with ALL the people and not continue down the polarized path Obama has followed. Democrats in Ohio are the first to concede that Kasich has done some good things for the people of the state.
Many Questions to Answer for Presidential Run
Kaisch's remarks Wednesday were largely biographical and character related. Perhaps a smart choice considering that he's not well known outside the Buckeye State. He has yet to put forward any kind of comprehensive program or set of issues on which to base his candidacy. Even the web site for his PAC New America has no specifics. One would expect that to change once he makes his announcement to run on July 21.
During his appearance he did make it clear he wants to restore America's military and relations with our allies. He also mentioned the need to defeat ISIS and make sure China understands that annexing areas in the South China Sea is not acceptable. Kasich would have a much more robust foreign policy where "action, not talk" would replace Obama's dithering across the board.
One note, he never directly mentioned Obama's name or Hillary Clinton at all. He didn't mention his Republican rivals either. All part of the "get to know me" campaign I suppose.
Members of the audience did have the opportunity to answer questions and one was regarding immigration. Kasich responded with a long rambling response and indicated his desire for the kind of comprehensive immigration reform that has been blocked in Congress due to conservative skepticism regarding any border security measures. He didn't provide any reassurance on that score.
Before he has a serious chance of competing for the nomination, for which he must be considered something of a longshot at this point, he will have to get much more specific and detailed on issues like immigration, Obamacare and others of great concern to conservative voters which make up the majority of South Carolina primary voters.
No doubt he'll be back again as the campaign unfolds and I look forward to hearing more of his thoughts on the issues. Meanwhile, here's a last look from the event. Kasich introduced his two 15 year old twin daughters Emma and Reese. He said his girls were always on their phones and invited them to snap a photo of the crowd and share it on social media. They dutifully complied. Who knows, Mike's America may be popping up on the phones of teenagers across the Buckeye State!
|Emma and Reece Kasich joined their father on Hilton Head Island for Wednesday's lunch.|
Photo by Mike's America