Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — A jovial John Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio, stood before a friendly audience at the University of Richmond on Monday, saying he would take just “one simple, last question” from the crowd.
A man stood up and looked at Kasich, who’s running for president, straight in the eye.
“People have called you the ‘Happy Warrior,'” he said. “But whenever I see you on TV, I see a lot more happy, and I just, I don’t really feel, like a visceral sense that, like, you’re the guy that can, like, do it.”
Kasich argued that to accomplish what he has — to balance a federal budget and run a state — you have to have a spine, you have to have toughness. But if you’re looking for a loudmouth, he said, count him out.
“I’m not playing to the cheap seats,” Kasich told the audience. “If that’s what it takes, I’m not going to be president. I’m not doing it.”
Kasich doesn’t have the bombast of Donald Trump, the celebrity of Jeb Bush or the outsider status of Ben Carson or Carly Fiorina. He’s polling low nationally and has struggled to draw attention to his campaign in such a packed field. Petty, headline-grabbing fights with his competitors seem anathema to the on-message former congressman.
But as the governor of an economically solid state in which he won reelection last year with two-thirds of the vote, he’s hoping his resume will secure votes in New Hampshire. Some of his centrist positions have found success among the state’s moderate Republicans, and analysts there told ABC News he could pose a serious threat to Bush or Marco Rubio if popular “outsiders” who have never held elected office — Trump, Carson and Fiorina — ever falter.
Kasich came in second behind Trump in an NBC/Marist poll of New Hampshire Republicans in September, boosted by a friendly super PAC that paid for pro-Kasich television advertising in the state, Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College poll, told ABC News. But in the same poll this month, Kasich dropped to a tie for seventh, after he wasn’t able to sustain his momentum and the airwaves grew more crowded.
Voters who meet him frequently mispronounce his name, and several students in Richmond who didn’t hear him speak failed to identify him in a photograph (they had no problem with Trump, though).
“He’s not particularly charismatic,” Linda Fowler, a professor of government at Dartmouth College, in Dartmouth, New Hampshire, told ABC News. “I don’t think his name recognition is very high, and it’s just very hard for voters to distinguish between so many different candidates.”
That anonymity is exactly what a super PAC backing his candidacy is trying to combat.
Ohio-based New Day for America has for several months saturated New Hampshire and Boston-area television with ads for the governor, spending $6.5 million through the end of October and giving him a boost in early polls, conducted when paid political advertising was less common. Connie Wehrkamp, a spokeswoman for the group, told ABC News that New Day’s fundraising “continues to be steady” and that it has “a considerable number of paid staff on the ground in” New Hampshire.
Kasich’s campaign has nine paid staffers in New Hampshire, Kasich spokesman Chris Schrimpf told ABC News. He would not comment on whether the campaign has advertised in the state. The campaign hasn’t had to disclose its financial records yet, but Schrimpf said it was “meeting our organizational and other goals.”
With so many candidates, some voters have so far avoided the fray. Analysts said that poll results fluctuate early and don’t have a good record of predicting the results months before New Hampshire holds its primary elections in February.
Kasich and his allies are singing a similar tune. “This is a long way from being over,” Bruce Berke, a Concord, New Hampshire, lobbyist who advises Kasich’s campaign, told ABC News. “They haven’t even hit the first turn, never mind the backstretch.”
But Kasich also has some challenges, such as a perception he can be prickly and show a temper with opponents, reporters and even potential voters.
“I think if that sort of thing were to happen in a state like this with so many candidates to choose from, I think that sort of thing could be very damaging,” Chris Galdieri, an assistant professor of politics at Saint Anselm College, in Manchester, New Hampshire, told ABC News.
For now, Kasich’s chugging along, touting his frequent visits to the Granite State. He returns Friday and will be back next week for several days.
“We do well here, we’re moving on,” Kasich told dozens of people at the opening of his New Hampshire headquarters in an old house in Manchester last week. “We do terrible here, it’s over. No confusion about that.”
And to make that happen, perhaps Kasich is open to change.
“Tone matters,” Kasich told the man at the Richmond town hall who questioned his enthusiasm. “I’ll keep in mind what you’re saying.”
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