February 6, 2016

THE BEST WORST SYSTEM:

The transformation of John Kasich (Chrissie Thompson, February 6, 2016, The Enquirer)

[D]o you remember the speech that launched his campaign? Forty-three minutes of rambling, disjointed, vintage Kasich. He told kids not to do drugs. He cited the support of two African-Americans he'd met at Wendy's. He reminisced about the delivery of his twin daughters.

We Ohioans are used to Kasich's unscripted style, even during official speeches. But outside observers were stunned. One national reporter openly gaped.

At his early town hall meetings, it wasn't much different. He'd spend 30 minutes talking about his background - growing up with a mailman father, talking his way into a meeting with then-President Richard Nixon when he was a college freshman, working on Pentagon procurement in Congress, balancing the budget and, yes, governing Ohio as it recovered from the recession. He'd then give winding answers to questions. At his first town hall, it took him about 30 minutes to field six questions.

Kasich's appeal has always been his plainspoken style, especially contrasted with candidates such as Marco Rubio, who deal more in stump speeches. But some attendees at those early town hall meetings would grimace a bit when asked to assess the governor's performance. They liked him. They were rooting for him. But did he have what it takes to become president?

He needs to give his answers more "punch," one man said. Another woman implied his answers should be more direct.

Then there was his problem with the "retail politicking" - interacting casually with voters on a walk through town, after a town hall meeting or at a party. Kasich doesn't enjoy it that much. For much of his campaign, it showed.

At a house party last fall, he walked around awkwardly, monotoning "How are you?" to people he met. And who can forget his infamously stilted conversation with a handful of factory workers last summer? Kasich cajoled, pleaded with workers to interact with him, in part because a camera crew was shooting footage for advertisements. But they couldn't relate to him and didn't care that, as he kept reminding them, he might be the next president. Finally, one man told him he dreamed of owning a home someday, and Kasich was incredulous that this seemed out of reach. [...]

During an interruptions-heavy debate in November, the Milwaukee crowd booed Kasich. This, by any measure, was the low point of Kasich's campaign. His debate performance was excoriated, his candidacy largely written off.

But something changed. His town hall meetings became more focused: a 10- to 15-minute introduction, about a dozen questions. Now, the openings skip boilerplate bio and focus on the things that make Kasich "Kasich." They're even inspirational at times.

"When we rise, we have an obligation to not leave anybody in the shadows," Kasich told Dartmouth College students last month when he spoke about tax cuts and economic growth. "We're Americans before we're anything else. ... What is our purpose? How do we fit into the mosaic of the world?"

"One person can change the world, but you do a lot more effective in life if you work as a team," he told senior citizens in Concord later that week.

"It's a strong country," he said this month at a country club in Greenland. "It takes a lot to beat down America."

Kasich's debate performances improved. He managed an artful interruption last month in South Carolina, leading to a wide discussion about free trade. He made clear, inoffensive points about his appeal in swing-state Ohio and the way his faith helped motivate him to expand Medicaid in Ohio under President Barack Obama's health care law.

Part practice, part instinct, part coaching, Kasich became a better candidate. And about a month ago, he was suddenly in second place in New Hampshire polls.

"As he got more comfortable with being himself, he began to win," said Tom Rath, a New Hampshire politico who is advising Kasich.

In poured the attention he needed. He went from frustration to euphoria overnight.

The Rubio/Kasich ticket is a natural.

Posted by at February 6, 2016 8:49 AM

  

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