MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE – Republican John Kasich has surged into national view following Tuesday’s New Hampshire presidential primary, clinching a coveted second-place finish by betting on his image as an experienced, more moderate optimist compared to his firebrand rivals.
The Ohio governor won about 16 percent of the vote after staking his White House dreams on the small northeastern state, where he ran an intense campaign that was often left out of a spotlight that favored negativity and bombast on the 2016 trail.
He has lagged in national polls at around 4 percent, but his showing in New Hampshire may signal a reversal of fortune.
“There’s magic in the air with this campaign,” an elated Kasich told supporters after the results came in. “We see this as an opportunity for all of us — and I mean all of us — to be involved in something that’s bigger than our own lives: to change America.”
Kasich traveled to New Hampshire dozens of times starting last March — months before he declared himself a candidate for president. He took part in 106 town hall-style campaign events.
Affable and seemingly relaxed on the campaign trail, the 63-year-old Kasich largely refrained from attacking his opponents, projecting a relentlessly positive image that set him apart from his combative rivals, chief among them front-runner Donald Trump.
“We never went negative because we have more good to sell than to spend our time being critical of somebody else,” Kasich said to loud cheers Tuesday night. “Maybe, just maybe, we’re turning the page on the dark part of American politics, because tonight the light overcame the darkness of negative campaigning.”
Kasich has emphasized his experience, harking back to his party’s more moderate past at a time when the Republican camp is dominated by increasingly extreme voices.
“Looking for a Reagan conservative? You’ve found one,” his campaign tweeted Tuesday above a photograph of a young Kasich shaking the Republican icon’s hand.
Kasich earned an endorsement from The New York Times, which called him “the only plausible choice for Republicans tired of the extremism and inexperience on display in this race.”
Still, in absolute terms, Kasich is “no moderate,” the Times noted, citing his record of confronting trade unions, limiting abortion rights, opposing same-sex marriage — a reflection of just how far to the right the Republican Party has moved.
Kasich is also a vocal defender of the right to bear arms, another fault line in America’s increasingly polarized politics.
A father to teenage twin daughters, Kasich — whose campaign presents him as a “husband, father, friend” — came a lowly eighth in the Iowa caucuses, which kicked off the nomination race last week, taking a mere 1.9 percent of the Republican vote.
But he knew his chances would be much better in New Hampshire’s key primary, the country’s first.
Elected Ohio governor in 2010 and re-elected in 2014, Kasich previously served as a U.S. congressman from 1983 to 2001, when he earned kudos for helping balance federal budgets, and as a state senator from 1979 to 1983.
He considered a presidential bid in 2000 before giving up politics, going to work as an investment banker and commentator for Fox News.
Kasich has often touted his bipartisan credentials while in office. In 1994, he voted with Democrats to support a ban on assault weapons under President Bill Clinton, which earned him the National Rifle Association’s wrath.
He also proposed his own version of universal health care as a House Budget Committee member during the 1990s.
Although his campaign budget is dwarfed by those of big spenders like Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz, Kasich has promised to stick to his positive campaign script.
“It’s not just what’s up here in the head, it’s also what’s here deep in the heart,” he said, tapping his fist against his chest.
Since he launched his campaign, Kasich has been mentioned as a potential vice presidential pick, someone who could help carry the crucial swing state of Ohio while lending gravitas and experience to the ticket.
He will now be hoping his result in New Hampshire will buoy his own nomination fortunes in South Carolina, where the Republican primary contest will head next week.