RICHMOND – Ohio Gov. John Kasich, often seen as a moderate among the candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination, brought his campaign Monday night to Virginia Commonwealth University, where he was greeted by hundreds of supporters and a handful of protesters.
“I like to call it how I see it,” Kasich said during a town hall meeting on VCU’s Medical College of Virginia campus. During the event, he discussed topics such as immigration – something GOP frontrunner Donald Trump adamantly opposes. Kasich said he does not condone illegal immigration but wasn’t opposed to having illegal aliens pursue legalization.
Kasich’s visit came eight days before Super Tuesday, when Virginia and nine other states will hold their presidential primary elections.
Kasich received less than 2 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1 – far behind Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Trump and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. But Kasich made a strong showing in the Feb. 23 New Hampshire primary: He received about 16 percent of the vote, finishing second to Trump’s 35 percent.
In Saturday’s South Carolina primary, Kasich finished fifth with less than 8 percent of the vote. Trump won that primary with more than 32 percent of the vote; Rubio and Cruz each received about 22 percent.
Despite his poor showing in opinion surveys, Kasich remains tenacious, Barney Skladany, a longtime friend of the Ohio governor, said in an interview at VCU.
“He woke up for 120 mornings and worked from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Then, he would come home and tune in to CNN and see that he is at 1 percent in the national polls. But he kept waking up each day,” Skladany said.
The College Republicans at VCU hosted the town hall at the Hermes A. Kontos Medical Sciences Building. In the adjacent courtyard, a small group of college-aged protesters shouted criticisms of Kasich and his positions.
Emily Bolton, communications director for the Democratic Party of Virginia, said Kasich “claims he is a moderate but he really is a Republican. He is anti-women, he doesn’t give them the right to choose and he has been cutting funding to abortion clinics. He also said that ‘women left the kitchen’ to campaign for him.”
That was a reference to a remark Kasich made earlier Monday at a town hall at George Mason University in Fairfax. Describing how he got elected to the Ohio Legislature in the 1970s, Kasich said, “I didn’t have anybody for me. We just got an army of people who, um, and many women, who left their kitchens to go out and go door-to-door and to put yard signs up for me.”
A few hours before the VCU event, Kasich apologized for the comment on CNN’s “The Situation Room.”
“Without the power of all the women who helped me out early in my career to give me a chance to hold public office, I wouldn’t have made it – and I’m grateful for all the work they put in for me and many of them that still do,” Kasich said on the news program.
In one of the most memorable moments at the VCU meeting, a woman told Kasich that five members of her family – including her 16-year-old son – had committed suicide. She asked the candidate how he would improve mental health care. Kasich said the government must help people who “live in the shadows.” He also reminisced on the death of his parents, who were killed by a drunken driver.
One of Kasich’s top campaign issues has been to balance the federal government’s budget and pay down the national debt. He said that as a result of his reforms, Ohio was able to rebound from recession. The state budget has climbed out of the red and is currently balanced, Kasich said, and the unemployment rate is at 4.7 percent – the lowest in more than a decade.
Unlike most of his rivals for the GOP presidential nomination, Kasich has not bashed the other candidates and their policies. That approach appeals to his supporters.
Jordan Gray, a student assembly delegate at Christopher Newport University, said he appreciated how empowering Kasich was. “He is a man who isn’t going to attack for personal gain. He is about building up the common people.”