John Kasich's Wild And Wooly Week

Aug 23, 2015

It’s hard to say at this early date how Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s quest for the Republican presidential nomination will turn out, but, given the governor’s personal style and political skills, everyone assumed it would be a wild ride.

And it has been just that.

Particularly over the past week.  The political equivalent of the seven-story water slide they’re building out at Kings Island.

Here’s a summary of the week in Kasich World:

  • Kasich stunned the entire GOP establishment Monday when he scored the endorsement of Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, a very popular figure in his state, after months of punditry saying that “mainstream” candidates like Kasich wouldn’t have a chance in the March 1 “SEC primary” of a half dozen very conservative Southern states.
  • On Wednesday, Kasich started a kerfluffle  at a conservative education conference in New Hampshire where he said if he was “king of America,” he would shut down all teachers’ lounges, “where they sit together and worry about ‘woe is us.’’’ Aides said he was joking – which Kasich does a lot – but the political establishment in this country is not quite used to presidential candidates cracking jokes.
  • A Quinnipiac University poll of the swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida showed that, while he is very popular in his home state, he is largely unknown in the other two key states.
  • Kasich skipped this weekend’s Americans for Prosperity annual conference in Columbus – an event sponsored by the billionaire Koch brothers, who vow to spend $900 million electing conservatives in 2016. At least five other GOP presidential contenders will speak to the 3,000 attendees, but Kasich is staying home and doing some appearances on cable news shows.  
  • And, finally, in a strange bit of political commentary, NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley went on ESPN’s “Mike & Mike Show” and said that while “99 percent of the time I vote Democratic,” right now, he likes Kasich for president, saying “he’s the only person I’m really paying attention to right now.”

Most of us did not have such an interesting week.

The endorsement of the Alabama governor may have been the most significant thing that happened in Kasich’s life this week. It was a signal that Kasich – who is not seen as one of the far-right GOP contenders – can be a competitive candidate in very conservative Southern states such as Alabama.

GOP political consultant Ed Rogers, an Alabamian, wrote a column in the Washington Post where he said this was a major event in the campaign.

“Maybe Bentley’s endorsement of the Ohio governor is an indication that the March 1 primaries are not just going to be a competition among those candidates who play to what they think Southern Republicans want to hear,’’ Rogers wrote. “This shows just how wide open the Republican race really is.”

Rob Nichols, a spokesman for the Kasich campaign, said the endorsement of the Alabama governor sent a message.

“We plan on competing everywhere, in every part of the country,’’ Nichols told WVXU.

The business about being “king of America” and shutting down all teachers’ lounges because that’s where they do all their complaining got some laughs from the conservative crowd in New Hampshire, but Democrats and their friends in the teachers’ unions weren’t laughing. They were accusing Kasich of being insensitive to the work that school teachers do.

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten fired off a tweet:

Nichols down-played the reaction.

Kasich, Nichols said, “thinks teachers have far more support in their communities than they sometimes give themselves credit for and they shouldn’t pay attention to the small number of pot-stirrers in their ranks who try to leverage problems for political gain.”

It was a joke, Nichols said.

“Anyone thinking he was making a comment on buildings or school architecture or space usage might need to look to the word ‘metaphor’ in a dictionary,’’ Nichols said.

The poll of three general election swing states – Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida – may not matter as much to Kasich right now as polls in early primary states like New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina. Still, if you are going to be the GOP nominee, you may well have to sweep all three of these states to win the White House.

The Quinnipiac Poll showed that Kasich is the favorite of Ohio Republicans for the nomination, not surprisingly. He had 27 percent support in the crowded field of 17 candidates, although Donald Trump came in second at 21 percent.

But he is near the bottom of the pack in Florida and Pennsylvania. He has 3 percent support in both states – and Pennsylvania is the state where Kasich was born and raised.

“Ohio is important, but if Gov. Kasich is going to be a serious candidate for the Republican nomination, he must broaden his appeal,’’ said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. “In Pennsylvania and Florida more than half of the voters don’t know enough about Kasich to have an opinion of him.”

But who cares about Florida and Pennsylvania when you have Charles Barkley on your side? We suppose LeBron James – the Cleveland Cavalier who plays his home games in the arena where next year’s GOP convention will be held - might be more helpful, although Kasich doesn’t need a whole lot of help in his home state.

Not that the nation was waiting with bated breath for Barkley to pronounce on the 2016 election, but he’s always been kind of a political guy – he’s talked about running for governor in his native Alabama before.

He’s a frequent guest on ESPN’s “Mike & Mike Show” – mainly because he always has something interesting, and sometimes outrageous, to say.

Wednesday, the hosts got him on the subject of the presidential campaign.

Barkley said that while he almost always votes for Democrats, “there’s not a Democrat in the race that I like. I would like to see (U.S. Sen.) Elizabeth Warren or the mayor of San Antonio. Those are the only two Democrats that I would vote for.”

Barkley couldn’t remember the mayor’s name, but the hosts told him – it’s Julian Castro.

Then he said Kasich is the only candidate who interests him now.

“Like I say, I prefer to vote Democratic.’’ Barkley said. “I have really been considering looking at a Republican, and right now I’ve been studying John Kasich.”

Maybe he and Gov. Bentley can campaign throughout Alabama for Kasich, from Mobile to Tuscaloosa.

The Bentley-Barkley tour. Or the Barkley-Bentley tour.

Well, they can fight that out.