John Kasich makes 2016 bid official in freewheeling announcement

Kasich rallies supporters around presidential announcement
Governor John Kasich presidential announcement ohio supporters 2016_00003115

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Story highlights

  • Kasich announced Tuesday a bid for White House
  • Kasich has run before, but said he lacked funding last time
  • He's taken contrary positions on Obamacare funding, immigration, common core

Washington (CNN)Ohio Gov. John Kasich burst onto the Republican playing field Tuesday with a freewheeling and, at times, emotional speech that hit on two main points: Americans should be working together and he can win, despite long odds.

The second-term Ohio governor told his life story for 45 minutes Tuesday at his alma mater, Ohio State University. And it was 20 minutes into his speech, at times meandering and sounding unscripted, before he made it official:
"I am here to ask you for your prayers, for your support ... because I have decided to run for president of the United States," Kasich told the crowd of roughly 4,000.
    Kasich tacked to the left throughout his speech, in a way that no other Republican candidate has this cycle, touching on themes of unity and support.
    "There are those who say 'Just work harder.' 'Pull yourselves up by your bootstraps.' I believe in all of that. Some people just don't have the fortune we have," he said.
    Later in his speech, Kasich -- who has been criticized heavily for expanding Medicaid under the President Barack Obama's signature health care law -- asked for empathy.
    "The Lord wants our hearts to reach out to those who don't have what we have," he said. "That shouldn't be hard for America, that's who we are. Empathy. Don't be so quick too judge."
    As he becomes the 16th major Republican candidate to enter the field, Kasich faces an immediate hurdle of trying to make it onstage for the first Republican debate. Fox News has said only the top 10 candidates in national polling will make the cut and Kasich has been trailing in the back of the pack with former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
    Kasich hinted at his task in a refrain throughout his speech, laying down the argument for why he could upend the frontrunners in the wide-open field.
    "They said it couldn't be done, and we proved them wrong again" Kasich said, as he recounted his first run for Congress, then his 2010 run for governor.
    Though he waited until Tuesday to announce, the Kasich campaign has effectively been up and running for months. His affiliated campaign group, New Day for America, began airing its second television ad in New Hampshire this week. He blasted his way on-air late in June with the first major buy of the cycle, spending $1.7 million to introduce himself to New Hampshire voters.
    Now, as he formalized his bid 20 minutes into his speech Tuesday, Kasich will be looking to ride the post-announcement bump into the top 10 candidates -- the group that will be able to participate in the first GOP debate next month sponsored by Fox Next.
    The 63-year-old Republican has a resume tailor-made for presidential politics: elected twice statewide in battleground Ohio, worked in the private sector and served nearly two decades in Congress, which included a six-year run as chairman of the House Budget Committee.
    Who Is John Kasich?
    Who Is John Kasich?

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      Who Is John Kasich?

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    Who Is John Kasich? 02:10
    Kasich launches his presidential campaign near the back of the pack in the polls. A CNN/ORC survey released in July showed the Ohio Republican with just 2% support among likely GOP primary voters. And the latest average tallied by RealClearPolitics has Kasich at 1.5% nationwide, and in 12th place, just behind former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum.
    His candidacy offers mainstream Republicans another option alongside former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
    As he looks to differentiate himself, his calling card may end up being his blunt and sometimes prickly style -- which could be spun to present a straight-talking candidate, ready to break out of typical molds.
    Kasich previously sought the presidency 16 years ago, but withdrew from the race in July 1999 and endorsed George W. Bush. During that campaign he referred to himself as the "Jolt Cola" of the Republican field to draw a contrast between his lively personality and what he saw as less exciting candidates.
    This time, however, he said he's staffed up and ready to run.
    "I've done this before. The problem was last time that I had this jet airplane ready to take off but I didn't have any gas for it. It never got into the air," Kasich said earlier this month, following a meeting of Washington backers he convened near the Capitol. "I learned a lot from that."
    More than a decade-and-a-half later, Kasich is still full of energy, and is not shy about taking on his fellow Republicans: He has accepted Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, supports Common Core education standards and has allowed for the possibility of a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

    The Ohio 'formula'

    That call-it-like-he-sees-it style has helped raise Kasich's political stock, at least in Ohio. The Republican scored a resounding victory in his 2014 re-election fight, receiving 64% of the vote and winning all but two of the Buckeye State's 88 counties, albeit against a flawed Democratic challenger.
    That 2014 victory was even more remarkable considering Kasich's standing just a few years earlier. Shortly after taking office, Kasich pushed to end the collective bargaining rights for public employee unions in the state, a bruising battle that saw his approval ratings dip into the 30s. In November 2011, Ohio voters rejected the measure at the ballot by a 22-point margin, 61% to 39%.
    "It's clear the people have spoken," Kasich said in the aftermath of the defeat. "I heard their voices. I understand their decision. And frankly, I respect what the people have to say in an effort like this. And as a result of that, it requires me to take a deep breath and to spend some time to reflect on what happened here."
    Less than two years later, Kasich took a step that would roil some conservatives, announcing in February of 2013 that Ohio would accept federal money under President Obama's health care law to dramatically expand Medicaid coverage to some 275,000 residents. The decision resulted in a months-long fight with GOP state lawmakers, but Kasich ultimately prevailed in an effort that he has framed as both an economic and moral cause.
    "I'm proud of what we've been doing for the people who have been living in the shadows, living under a bridge or whatever," Kasich said during a Republican Governors Association panel last November. "And the people have responded to it. Conservatives in my state have responded to it by and large."
    The effort did not appear to have any lingering effects by the time November 2014 rolled around, with 88% of conservatives saying they backed Kasich for a second term, according to exit polls. But it was Kasich's ability to expand his support among groups that Republicans have struggled to win over at the national level, winning 60% of women, 59% of moderates and 26% of African-Americans.
    Kasich suggests other Republicans should be following his example if they want to take back the White House next year.
    "I think it's a formula for the country. Look at problems and fix them. Don't be worried about the next election," Kasich told CNN's Gloria Borger during a visit to South Carolina in February. "I mean, too many politicians worry about getting elected as they do their job -- if they worried more about doing their job they'd get elected.

    His own brand of conservatism

    No Republican has waged a successful campaign for the White House without winning Ohio. And there is one thing Kasich says will not work with Buckeye State voters: extremism.
    "If somebody comes into Ohio and they're extreme, they're not going to win," Kasich told CNN. "I mean, we don't operate that way in Ohio."
    That has been a common refrain for Kasich as he explored a potential presidential bid earlier this year. During a March appearance in New Hampshire Kasich blasted "all the divisions in America" and said leaders should "cross their own interest groups and reach out to unite and lift Americans."
    The challenge for Kasich, though, is selling a more pragmatic brand of politics to a conservative GOP primary electorate eager to draw sharp contrasts with President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee in 2016.
    Kasich has an answer ready for critics who contend his approach to governing does not line up with conservative principles.
    "You know what, I've got as much a right as anybody in the Republican Party to define what conservatism means," Kasich told CNN in February. "I was the governor of Ohio that took an $8 billion hole and produced a surplus. We've cut taxes more than anybody in the country, and they're wondering about my conservatism? Maybe I should wonder about theirs."

    'Crusade' to balance the budget

    There is one policy area where it is hard to deny Kasich's conservative chops: the budget.
    The fiscal health of the country has been a focus of the Ohio Republican for decades. Kasich describes himself as the "chief architect" of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, signed by President Bill Clinton, which resulted in the first federal budget surplus since the late 1960s.
    Last December, fresh off his 2014 re-election victory, Kasich launched what he dubbed a "crusade" to adopt a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which included travel to the key early voting states of South Carolina and New Hampshire, as well as others such as Idaho and Utah.
    "If you don't manage the debt, it'll kill you," Kasich said during a March stop in New Hampshire, pledging to "travel all over America" to promote his agenda.

    An opening for Kasich

    When he was mulling a bid earlier this year, Kasich said that one of the key factors in his decision would be whether there was a way for him to win the White House.
    Amid a field of bigger-name contenders -- like Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker -- Kasich looks crowded out. However, his affiliated "New Day" group announced a combined fundraising haul of $11.5 million during a somewhat-abbreviated period starting from May 1, enough for the Kasich team to land in the middle of the pack.
    And Kasich has the backing of a handful of key Republicans, including top media strategists from Sen. John McCain's 2008 bid, Fred Davis and John Weaver, and former New Hampshire Sen. John Sununu, something Kasich often points out.
    "Give me somebody better than John Sununu in New Hampshire, tell me who it is," Kasich said earlier this month. "I can't figure out who it would be. Maybe (former) Gov. (John) Sununu, his father. But I'll take young John."