Kasich officially launches campaign
© Getty Images

Ohio Gov. John Kasich launched his long-shot bid for the White House on Tuesday, casting himself as an underdog who has consistently won fights he was expected to lose.

In an unscripted speech that bounced from an extended tribute to his family, to the Civil War, to the civil rights movement, to the Great Depression, to 9/11 and a small town in Ohio that had fallen on hard times, Kasich acknowledged he faces a stiff challenge in breaking out of the crowded field of Republicans, many of whom entered the race for the GOP nomination months ago.

“People will have a lot more money than me,” Kasich said at Ohio State University, his alma mater.

ADVERTISEMENT

But Kasich pointed to his upset victory the first time he ever ran for office to become a state senator at the age of 24. He recalled winning his first term in the House in 1982 at the age of 30, in a year when Republicans otherwise lost 26 seats.

Kasich argued that on Capitol Hill, he faced stiff opposition from many quarters but was able to cut wasteful spending as a member of the Armed Services Committee and balance the budget as chairman of the Budget Committee.

He said political watchers doubted he’d be able to return to political life after a decade-long detour into the private sector, but he reemerged to knock off an incumbent to become governor of Ohio in 2010.

“They said it couldn’t be done, and we proved them wrong,” Kasich declared after recounting each victory.

The Ohio governor will be running on a decades-long record that has taken him from Washington to Wall Street and back to Columbus. Kasich argued Tuesday that he’s the only candidate with experience on Capitol Hill, in the private sector — where he worked at Lehman Brothers — and as governor of a swing state.

“I have to humbly tell you I believe I do have the skills and the experience,” Kasich said. “I have the experience and the testing, the testing, which shapes you and prepares you for the most important job in the world, and I believe I know how to work and restore this great United States.”

ADVERTISEMENT

“I’ve been there at all levels,” Kasich added.

Kasich’s candidacy brings the Republican presidential field to 16. Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore has said he planned to announce in early August.

Kasich is getting a late start and suffers from low name-recognition outside of Ohio, which has a drag on his national polling numbers. The Ohio governor barely registers in most national polls, taking only 1.5 percent support, according to the RealClearPolitics average.

It will be a struggle just for Kasich to qualify for the first debate on Aug. 6 in Cleveland. Fox News is capping the debate at 10 candidates based on national polling numbers, and Kasich is currently tied for 11th place.

Still, Kasich is within striking distance of qualifying, and if he can get a boost from his announcement speech, it could be perfectly timed to propel him onto the stage two weeks from now.

Kasich’s speech on Tuesday was well-received by the roughly 2,000 in attendance, though the unscripted feel to it had some political watchers scratching their heads. Reportedly he used notes but did not have a prepared speech and did not use a teleprompter.

He recalled an encounter with two African-American men at a Wendy’s who encouraged him to run for president and more generally extolled the virtues of empathy, teamwork and service, while warning against the dangers of drugs to America’s youth. He also included moments of personal reflection.

“I’m just a flawed man trying to honor God’s blessings in my life,” Kasich said toward the end of his speech. “I don’t even understand it all. He’s been very good to me.”

Some Republicans believe it’s that kind of unedited, straight-from-the-heart style that could endear Kasich to conservative primary voters, particularly at the slew of town hall-style events he has planned in New Hampshire.

But he could have a hard time breaking through the crowded field.

Donald Trump’s emergence has stoked a media frenzy and drawn attention away from some of the bottom tier of candidates who are scrambling to raise their profiles and qualify for the debates.

On Tuesday, Trump gave an address in South Carolina that overlapped with Kasich’s launch.

In addition, some Republicans wonder whether there’s room in the race for another centrist candidate running in the establishment lane.

Jeb Bush has attracted enormous sums of money and has hit his stride since launching his bid for the GOP nomination last month, shooting to near the top of the polls nationally.

Kasich could also face the same problems as Bush with the conservative base. Kasich supports Common Core education standards, has said he’s open to a pathway to citizenship for those in the country illegally and expanded Medicaid in Ohio under ObamaCare.

On Tuesday, Kasich made what he said was a moral argument in defending his expansion of Medicaid, arguing that it benefits the developmentally disabled, who are “made in God’s image and have a right to rise and be successful.”

Meanwhile, the fiscally conservative group Club for Growth hammered him on the issue.

“John Kasich’s decision to expand Medicaid in Ohio in 2013 was a costly mistake,” said Club for Growth President David McIntosh. “Medicaid enrollment in Ohio has far outpaced Kasich’s projections and more than doubled in cost … our presidential white paper on the Ohio governor will, no doubt, warn of the long-lasting consequences from his decision to burden Ohio with an ever-growing price tag for Medicaid expansion.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Still, Kasich is a favorite of some establishment Republicans and conservative media pundits, who believe he presents a legitimate threat to Bush for the establishment mantle.

Kasich’s political team sees a path through New Hampshire, where he’s believed to be a good fit for the moderate primary electorate.

— This story was updated at 6:20 p.m.