STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
By the end of this day, there will be 16 Republican candidates for president. Ohio Governor John Kasich officially jumps in the race this morning. He makes that announcement in Columbus, where we find NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hey, good morning.
INSKEEP: So number 16, John Kasich. This is a guy who is really well-known in politics, maybe not as well-known in the country at large. So what makes him think he can win in such a crowded field?
GONYEA: Right, he's mostly known in Ohio. But look, he's been elected Ohio governor twice. He cruised to re-election. Last time, he won 86 of 88 counties across the state of Ohio, and maybe that's his best argument - that he can win this state. This is an important state in presidential elections. I don't need to tell anybody that. But here's the other fun fact - no Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio. His approval rating in the state is strong - 55 percent. People like his handling of the economy, he's got executive experience as governor and he will talk about what he's gotten done - overseeing Ohio's recovery from the economic crisis, diversifying the state's economy beyond manufacturing. And he likes to pitch himself as a Washington outsider - sound familiar? - as governors like to do when they're running for president.
INSKEEP: Well, you know, it's funny, years ago, a bunch of Republican governors got together and said, we need one candidate for president - one of us - and the guy they settled on was George W. Bush. This time, you've got Kasich, a governor, running, and also Chris Christie, a governor, running, and Scott Walker, another governor, running, and former Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, running. How does Kasich stack up to these guys?
GONYEA: Well, those guys have all been campaigning all year or longer, even if they weren't official candidates the whole time, so they've got a head start. Kasich's only been out there a couple of months, but there are some comparisons worth making. Early in his first term, John Kasich did what Scott Walker did in Wisconsin. He took on the big public employee unions. The Ohio law that he signed was even more extensive than Wisconsin's. It included police and fire unions, stripping them of most of their bargaining rights, and there was a backlash by voters. They overturned it in a referendum. It was a big defeat for Kasich, but he says he learned from it, and it changed how he governed from that point forward. The guy he maybe matches up best with is Jeb Bush - both are seen as more moderate in the GOP field in how they approach their job as governor. But listen, all of these governors call themselves outsiders. Kasich, though, has something different. He served nine terms in Congress - that was in the '80s and in the '90s. He says his work there shows how he could be an effective president. He worked across the aisle. Listen to what he said in an interview that I had with him last month.
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JOHN KASICH: My approach throughout my entire career has been to negotiate and reach agreement with people. I mean, I was involved in welfare reform. I was involved in grounding the B-2 with Ron Dellums, one of the most liberal members of Congress. I negotiated with the Clinton administration to get the budget balanced.
INSKEEP: Does any of that help him in a Republican primary in 2016?
GONYEA: Well, that's the catch 'cause all of those things involve that word, compromise, right? So it's an uphill climb for Kasich. Here's the trick, too - he's embraced a lot of positions that are not popular with Republican primary voters. He's one of a handful of Republican governors to accept federal Medicaid funding under Obamacare, though he says, hey, it was a matter of me bringing Ohio taxpayer dollars back to the state.
INSKEEP: You know, when you just think on the surface, what is generally known about John Kasich? One is that he was known as being quite effective in Congress, as he says. The other is that he's a rather flinty politician. He says what he thinks.
GONYEA: Both things true. It's not unusual to see him say something that seems almost insulting, either to someone who asked him a question at a town hall or to a reporter or whomever. You know, if he's the 16th candidate going in, nobody's going to call this the sweet 16 because of him.
INSKEEP: Don, thanks very much.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Don Gonyea. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.