Republican presidential candidate and Ohio Governor John Kasich rolled through New Hampshire with an ad hoc band of brothers last Friday, continuing his New Hampshire-focused campaign. Kasich was joined by former U.S. Senator Gordon Humphrey, former Air Force pilot and P.O.W. Tom Moe who was held in the “Hanoi Hilton” alongside John McCain and who later served as the Ohio Director of Veterans Services under Kasich, and Tim Penny, a former Democratic member of the House of Representatives from Minnesota. Tom Rath, a former New Hampshire Attorney General and Republican power broker, also accompanied Kasich but did not address the audience.
Speaking to a modest-sized audience of about 40 people in Franklin, the four travelers appeared to greatly enjoy each other’s company. Their presentations were heartfelt, quickly moving into deeply personal territory. Moe’s experience as a prisoner of war for five years, with beatings and other torture, is riveting and inspiring even 40 years later. While discussing Moe’s time working in the Kasich administration as state director of veterans services and their meetings with families of soldiers lost in war, Kasich discussed the loss of his own parents, killed together in a car accident caused by a drunk driver. His introduction of Tim Penny, a former Democratic congressman who served alongside Kasich, included the fact that Penny’s wife died about ten years ago. Although hardly light and breezy, it all seemed to fit together and gave a window into Kasich and his compatriots.
Kasich spoke at length on many topics, with a basic theme of his experience in both federal and state government, his ability to solve problems especially fiscal problems, and the value of compromise. In what is basically heresy in Republican circles Kasich fondly recalled the Clinton years, most especially the balanced budget and budget surplus achieved then. “Remember how great it was in those years” said Kasich to some head nods and murmured “yeah”s as he recalled his role as Chairman of the House Budget Committee in balancing the budget and the value of Bill Clinton’s political flexibility. “Republicans controlled everything including the White House” when I left Congress in 2001 continued Kasich, with “a projected $5 trillion surplus and they spent the whole thing.” That’s a reality that many, but not all, Republican candidates avoid. For Kasich, it’s both a part of what hampers a potential rise in the field and his best pitch.
The mid-day audience gathered in the low-ceilinged VFW hall basement was overwhelmingly retirement age with roughly even numbers of men and women and, as at virtually every New Hampshire Republican event, entirely white. Their questions were wide-ranging, from how to protect funding for the disabled and how Kasich will address the ongoing heroin epidemic to how he will “restore” a military that is “the worst” and “lowest it’s ever been” to nuclear weapons and disarmament to infrastructure and dealing with Congress. They appeared to include many “leaning toward Kasich” voters, with several expressing interest in Christie, and to a lesser extent Rubio, in brief conversations.
When asked how he would deal with Congress and the challenges of making good on campaign promises Kasich drew laughs by saying “if I’m elected there’s going to be a chicken in every pot.” He then drew a more serious difference, distinguishing himself from most politicians declaring that “the agenda I have is a governing agenda, not an election agenda.”
“Did you have fun?” Kasich asked a woman approaching for a photo afterwards. “I did” she replied, “you’re honest, that’s what I like.” Their exchange did not include any promise to vote for him, however.
Video – Here are separate clips of Kasich’s full town hall appearance and the introduction by Gordon Humphrey and Tom Moe: