For a party that’s accustomed to nominating the next-in-line presidential candidate, 2016 promises to be a very unusual year for the Republican Party. For the first time in decades, the GOP has no clear front-runner or even an establishment favorite at this early stage.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie looked poised to fill that role, but his home-state scandals are endangering any national bid before it even gets underway. Jeb Bush would be an obvious contender, but Republican officials are skeptical he’d jump into the ring—all too cognizant of the baggage his last name brings. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker might be able to transcend the gap between the tea party and the establishment, but he still faces a challenging reelection back home. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida lost some cachet after his high-profile advocacy of immigration reform foundered.
But there’s one candidate who isn’t generating much buzz and whose résumé compares favorably with any of the top-tier candidates. He’s a battleground-state governor who’s looking in strong position to win a second term. He defeated one of the more popular Democratic governors in the country, who happened to be a major Clinton ally. He’s from the Midwest, likely to be the critical region in the 2016 presidential election. He entered office as a prominent fiscal conservative but compromised on Medicaid expansion. And most important, Republican officials familiar with his thinking say he’s seriously considering a presidential campaign.
Enter Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the swing-state executive who’s currently polling at microscopic levels nationally but who could have an outsized impact on the 2016 race.
“The presidential nominee is likely to be a governor, and, frankly, Kasich is as well situated as anybody. This is a guy who can connect with a crowd, he can emote, he’s got blue-collar roots, and he identifies with average folks. He’s certainly no Romney,” said former NRCC Chairman Tom Davis, who served with Kasich in Congress. “In my opinion, he’s the total package. And I think he’s interested.”
By all accounts, Kasich shouldn’t be considered a sleeper. As governor, he’s presided over a Rust Belt renaissance, with the state’s unemployment rate dropping from one of the highest in the country in 2009 (10.6 percent) to around the national average (7.2 percent) last month. In 2013, Kasich signed a sizable tax cut thanks to the state’s newfound budget surplus. Kasich was among the first Republicans to tout the party’s need to reach out to the disadvantaged, and he lived up to his rhetoric by passing prison-sentencing reform with support from African-American legislators.
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