GREECE – Of all the comments that John Kasich fielded during a town hall session in this Rochester suburb Saturday, none sparked a more thunderous ovation than the suggestion he continue his underdog campaign for president.
More than 1,500 people (according to police) jammed the Greece Community Center to hear the Republican governor of Ohio outline his alternative to front-runners Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, whose supporters are suggesting more strongly than ever that Kasich drop out. But his Monroe County supporters didn’t want to hear anything of the sort.
Indeed, Kasich told reporters after his 75-minute, give-and-take session, that he feels good about snaring at least some of New York’s 95 delegates to the Republican National Convention when primary voters cast ballots April 19. He pointed to at least one poll that ranks him second in New York behind Trump.
“We’re second place now in New York, and we think we’ll do OK here,” he said. “Look, a lot of people feel pressure for any number of reasons to come and say they’re for Trump, but are they really for him? I’m not sold on that.”
He also emphasized his contention that he will fare best in a November general election against Democrat Hillary Clinton, and that his effort to win the GOP nomination can still be accomplished at an open convention.
“In terms of experts, they haven’t been right about one single thing all year,” he said. “We are going to a convention, and at the convention they’re going to decide who can actually win in the fall and who can beat Hillary. I’m the only who consistently does it.”
Kasich is aiming to compete in all of the 27 elections in each of New York’s congressional districts on April 19, aiming to cherry-pick enough delegates to bolster his convention case. He appealed to the virtually all-white crowd of enthusiastic supporters, who seemed to quickly absorb his self-described rise from blue-collar roots and an “aw-shucks” style.
“The really amazing thing about this is that I appreciate each and everyone that comes to these things,” he said. “I’m humbled by it. Wow – this is really something. Who would stand in line out there to come and see me?”
The governor never once mentioned any of his Republican or Democratic opponents by name during his general remarks, but he was clearly aiming for Trump by pointing to “people who think we ought to close our doors to immigrants.”
“I think they’re dead wrong,” he said.
And he hinted to reporters that his “Q&A, town hall” format allowed his followers to feel “safe” at his rallies, as opposed to the fisticuffs and other disruptions frequently noted at Trump events.
“The informal style also helps people feel comfortable and feel safe when they come to something like this,” he said.
Kasich reiterated many of his now-signature stories such as growing up in Democratic McKees Rocks, Pa., attending Ohio State, finagling an Oval Office meeting with President Richard Nixon as a collegian, and emerging as a major force behind balancing the federal budget while a congressman in the 1980s and 1990s.
He also pointed to his now-familiar statistics of soaring job growth in Ohio under his tenure as governor, along with a balanced budget and reduced taxes.
Kasich has tried to present himself as a “moderate” alternative to Trump and Cruz by pointing to his state’s embrace of Medicaid funds under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, even though he opposed the law.
Ironically, as he pointed out that his government has determined the “mentally ill should not have to sleep under a bridge or in prisons,” several advocates for the disabled interrupted his speech with chants urging more attention. Kasich deftly defused the situation by agreeing with their demands and pointing to help for the disabled as the single biggest increase in Ohio’s budget.
He has watched the nation’s $5 trillion surplus melt into a $19 trillion deficit, he said, adding that a balanced budget equals good economic times and negates a host of issues now dominating the presidential debate.
“The issue of income inequality and job security was not an issue then because America was booming,” he said.
The governor called for transferring federal involvement in welfare, education, job training and infrastructure back to the control of states, and he took a more conciliatory approach to immigration than Trump and his plan to build a massive wall on the Mexican border. Kasich said he also will stand against illegal immigration, but would also pursue a “path to legalization.”
The candidate appealed to his audience’s spiritual side by insisting they are all part of a grander plan. He singled out nurses, teachers, doctors and school custodians, praising their contributions as important.
“The strength of our country is not in our president,” he said. “The strength of our country is in ourselves, our families and our neighborhoods. In the end, we don’t have to run for president to change the world.”
But more than anything, Kasich portrayed himself as a winner.
“Cruz and Trump are going to get killed in the fall. I mean, they cannot win,” he said. “They will get beat and we will lose the (Supreme Court), we will lose the United States Senate, and people will wake up to that. Finally, people will decide who it is that can actually be president with the maturity, experience and the record.”
Kasich made only one suggestion about losing in New York.
“Even if I don’t get any votes in New York,” he said, “I’m coming back for the food.”