John Kasich, Nightmare for Partisans

Kasich the combative.

Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Ohio Governor John Kasich, who on Tuesday became the latest and perhaps last major Republican figure to enter the presidential race, may well be the Democratic Party's worst nightmare. The question is whether he is also a nightmare for Republican primary voters.

No Republican candidate has ever reached the White House without winning Ohio. The party's decision to hold its 2016 convention in Cleveland probably won't do much to improve its chances in the state, which Barack Obama won twice. But what if the nominee were the state's popular, pragmatic governor -- who grew up in another important state, Pennsylvania, that Republicans would love to put in play?

Kasich has more than geography going for him. He made his name in Washington as a deficit hawk who ultimately helped broker a bipartisan balanced budget agreement in 1997, which helped lead to large surpluses -- a feat he has repeated as governor.

Yet the budget-slashing Kasich has long had a reputation for crossing party lines. He teamed up with liberals to close corporate tax loopholes. He voted to ban the sale of assault weapons. And last year, he expanded the state's Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

He hasn't been shy about defending that decision. "I don't know about you, lady," he shot back at a wealthy party donor who criticized him for it. "But when I get to the pearly gates, I'm going to have an answer for what I've done for the poor."

Kasich's independent streak runs as deep as his Christian faith, but it remains to be seen whether he can win over the religious right and the party's activist base. His moderate positions on education and immigration will not make it easy: He supports the Common Core education standards and is open, however reluctantly, to creating a pathway for citizenship for those here illegally.

Kasich is likely to try and talk more about other issues. He is a hawk on foreign policy who has called for putting combat troops in Iraq to fight Islamic State. He cut taxes in Ohio by some $3 billion. And he went further than Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to reduce the power of public-sector unions, pushing through a law restricting the issues subject to collective bargaining (although voters later repealed it).

Kasich is refreshingly direct, and his willingness to adopt unpopular positions is admirable. Can it sell in a Republican primary? It's good news for the party, and the country, that Kasich is going to find out.

Read more from this series:
Scott Walker Is Tough. Is That Enough?
Jim Webb's Rebellion
Chris Christie's Tell-All Campaign
Bobby Jindal's Fading Star 
Trump Jumps In
Jeb Bush's Mission
Rick Perry Rides Again
Lincoln Chafee's One Issue
Martin O'Malley's More Than Marginal
The Other Lindsey Graham
George Pataki's Curious Candidacy
Rick Santorum's Only Chance
Ben Carson, Political Novice
Carly Fiorina's Best Argument
What Is a Sanders Democrat?
Which Marco Rubio for President?
It's a Race, Hillary. Start Running.
Why Rand Paul Matters
Ted Cruz Is No Captain Courageous

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