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Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) endorsed Ohio Gov. John Kasich for the Republican presidential nomination on Monday.

In a joint appearance at the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, Bentley lauded Kasich’s record as governor, saying he cut taxes by $5 billion, turned an $8 billion budget shortfall into a $2 billion surplus and created 350,000 jobs.

Bentley also cited Kasich’s experience on the House Armed Services Committee in the 1980s and 1990s, saying he worked “with leaders like President Reagan to strengthen our military, end the Cold War and revamp the Pentagon.”

{mosads}“John Kasich is a leader whose readiness to lead our nation on his first day in the Oval Office is unmatched,” Bentley said. “America needs John Kasich, and I am going to do everything I can to help make sure he is our next president,”

Alabama figures to play an important role in the GOP nominating process in 2016. It’s one of eight southern states that will hold a vote on March 1 in the so-called “SEC primary.”

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, for one, has been barnstorming states in the Deep South, calling the March 1 contests his “firewall” in the race for the Republican nomination.

So far, the only other governors to endorse — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) — have both announced their support for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who led the Republican Governors Association during a hugely successful cycle for the GOP in 2014.

Kasich was the tenth and final candidate to make it on the prime-time stage earlier this month for the first Republican presidential debate, but his compassionate conservative message and record of balancing the federal budget as chairman of the House Budget Committee impressed many Republicans.

Kasich is staking his campaign on winning the New Hampshire primary. A super-PAC supporting his candidacy is already spending big there, and polls show he’s making inroads.

According to the RealClearPolitics average of polls in New Hampshire, Donald Trump has a double-digit lead over the field in the Granite State. However, Kasich is in third place, pulling within 1 percentage point of Jeb Bush, whom many view as a favorite to win there.

Later on Monday, Kasich will hit the road for a campaign swing through the critical early carve-out states of South Carolina, Iowa and New Hampshire. 

Tags John Kasich Robert Bentley

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