The Pennsylvania primary is still six weeks away, but Ohio Gov. John Kasich appeared at a town hall at Villanova University on Wednesday, marking the state’s first campaign visit by a presidential hopeful.
Kasich, who was born in McKees Rock, just northwest of Pittsburgh, won the Ohio primary Tuesday. While still third in a race of three for the Republican nomination, trailing far behind businessman and reality TV star Donald Trump and Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in terms of committed delegates, Kasich is campaigning as an “optimistic” and electable moderate Republican.
“You gotta figure out how to get along with people in both parties,” he said, after an anecdote about working with someone who had been adversarial over legislation.
After riffing on the topics of evolution, the economy, student debt, and small government for about for 20 minutes, he opened the floor up to questions.
The final query came from 11-year-old Jack Shapiro, who attended the 600-plus person rally with his mom.
“In terms of your strategy for defeating ISIS, to what extent would American personnel be involved,” he asked.
“Jack, we’re going to have to be in the air, and then we’re going to have to be on the ground. And Americans are going to have to be there,” said Kasich, staking out territory in which he differs from Cruz and Trump. Cruz has been less committed on ground troops, while Trump favors bombing ISIS into submission.
Siphoning off support from the two GOP front-runners could lead to a contested Republican National Convention in July, according to Villanova political science professor Matthew Kerbel.
“There’s a vacancy in the hopeful, upbeat sector in the Republican race, and the question is how will voters respond and is it enough,” he said. At a contested convention, delegates could decide to nominate someone other than leader in delegates.
Kembel said it’s unusual to see presidential candidates coming to Pennsylvania this far in advance of the primary, and for the Republican Party not to have a clearer favorite at this point in the election cycle.
Kasich’s run, he said, amounts to “tilting at windmills,” a reference to literary character Don Quixote and his delusions of grandeur. After Tuesday’s primaries, Kasich has pulled in 143 delegates, to Cruz’s 410 and Trump’s 673. But Kasich is winning supporters who now see him as their best shot for a “hopeful” and civil candidate.
After U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s “degradation of his campaign, stooping to the level of Trump, it was easy to make a switch,” said University of Pennsylvania student Brianna Wronko, who changed her allegiances before Rubio dropped out of contention.
Kasich met briefly with the press after the town hall. He spelled out his reasons for coming to Pennsylvania, where he’s been endorsed by former Govs. Tom Ridge and Dick Thornburgh.
“My strength is up here,” he said. “I’ve been playing in somebody’s own home court. Now we’re getting to my home court advantage. We’re gonna be in places like New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania.”
If the Northeast is his turf, he’ll have to wait a while for another home game. Those primaries are weeks or months away. Kasich’s next campaign stops are scheduled for Friday, in Utah.