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Politics & Government

Ohio Gov. John Kasich Launches Presidential Campaign

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The governor of Ohio, always a hard-fought and much-prized state in presidential elections, has entered the race for the 2016 GOP nomination. John Kasich is the 16th officially declared Republican hopeful. He is popular at home, but he's little known nationally. He'll need to gain traction quickly if he hopes to be one of the 10 participants allowed on-stage at the first Republican debate early next month. NPR's Don Gonyea was at the announcement today.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: John Kasich was back at his alma mater, the Ohio State University. It wasn't a student crowd, but 2000 people packed the double balcony that circles the atrium in the student union. And it sure felt like a pep rally when Ohio State football legend and two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin took the stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ARCHIE GRIFFIN: Thank you. O-H...

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: ...I-O.

GRIFFIN: No, no, no. I said O-H...

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: ...I-O.

GRIFFIN: Now that's better.

GONYEA: Griffin was there to lend support to a friend, not to officially endorse Kasich's candidacy, but the next big speaker was a visitor from the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire. Former U.S. Senator John Sununu called Kasich a mentor and a problem-solver whom he has known since both served in the U.S. House together 20 years ago.

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JOHN SUNUNU: He cut spending. He took on special interests. He cut taxes. He led the way to America's first balanced budget since man walked on the moon.

(APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: Kasich finally took the stage. He spoke off-the-cuff for some 43 minutes. A recurring theme was the American dream.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN KASICH: I have to tell you there are a lot of people in America today who are not sure that that American dream is possible, that that American dream is alive.

GONYEA: He spoke of the 51-year-old man, suddenly laid off, being told he's not needed, of parents with grown kids moving back home and of minorities who think the system is rigged against them. He continued...

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KASICH: We pick up the paper. It's Chattanooga. It's Fort Hood. It's ISIS. Are we safe? Are we going to be safe to go to the mall? Are we safe to leave our homes?

GONYEA: Kasich spoke of his time as governor of Ohio, citing the state's growing and diversifying economy. He talked of cutting taxes and regulations while also stressing the government has an important role to play in helping people who need support. He said his record as governor and as a nine-term Congressman give him the skills to find solutions. Kasich pointed to his very first days as an elected officeholder, as a state senator almost four decades ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KASICH: That is where I learned that policy is far more important than politics, ideology or any of the other nonsense we see.

(APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: Still, Kasich's record doesn't play well with a lot of GOP activists who vote in primaries. They think he's too quick to compromise. He accepted federal money under Obamacare, and he says immigrants in the country illegally should be able to get some sort of legal status. Kasich can be blunt. He's been called rude in dealing with people, but the biggest question is will he be able to get noticed in such a crowded field? Don Gonyea, NPR News, Columbus. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.