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5 Things You Should Know About John Kasich

Ohio Gov. John Kasich is the final major GOP candidate expected to enter the race for president.
Jim Cole
Ohio Gov. John Kasich is the final major GOP candidate expected to enter the race for president.

This post has been updated to note that Kasich officially announced he's running.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich officially became the 16th candidate to officially enter the crowded race for the Republican presidential nomination on Tuesday.

He's the final major GOP hopeful expected to jump in, and despite being governor of one of the most critical general election swing states, Kasich faces long odds at winning the nomination. He's more centrist than many of his potential rivals and has taken heat for accepting Medicaid expansion money through Obamacare and for his openness to immigration reform.

Kasich points to his successful tenure in both the public and private sectors, but both his GOP rivals and Democrats will try to use that record against him. Elected to the U.S. House at just 30 years old, after having become the youngest state senator in Ohio history, Kasich developed a reputation as a budget and deficit hawk in Washington, D.C., and eventually rose to lead the prestigious Budget Committee. After leaving Congress, he went into the private sector and spent several years at Lehman Brothers.

As Kasich joins the Republican presidential field, here are five things you should know about him:

1. Raised as a Catholic, Kasich once considered becoming a priest.

The oldest of three kids, Kasich was born in McKees Rocks, Pa., to two Democratic postal workers; his father was a mailman and his mom worked in the post office. His was a blue-collar, Catholic family typical of the Pittsburgh suburbs at the time.

Kasich was an altar boy, and even then his ambition was evident. In his 2010 memoir Every Other Monday, Kasich detailed his faith journey, writing that it was one he took seriously and that he didn't like anyone getting in his way.

His childhood friend David Cercone told the Cleveland Plain Dealer last year: "90 percent of Catholic boys at some point wanted to be a priest. ... John wasn't just going to be a priest, though. He was going to be the pope."

Kasich's faith waned after he went off to college at Ohio State University, though. His parents became more conservative and eventually joined an Episcopal church. Then, in 1987, they were killed by a drunken driver while pulling out of Burger King after a coffee run. That accident spurred Kasich on his faith journey, as he detailed in Every Other Monday. He described how he had gathered a Bible study group that had been his rock for more than two decades. Kasich now attends an Anglican church.

2. The Republican used his faith to justify his decision to expand Medicaid in Ohio.

While Kasich may not speak about his faith as forcefully or as openly as some of his GOP rivals, he has used it to justify some of his decisions while in office, and it's a tack that has echoes of the social justice movement.

In 2013, he decided to accept the Medicaid expansion money offered under Obamacare — heretical to most conservatives. But he frequently invokes Matthew 25 as his rationale for helping those less fortunate.

"Now, when you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he's probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small. But he is going to ask you what you did for the poor. You better have a good answer," Kasich told reporters in 2013.

Then-House Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich made a brief run for president in the 2000 GOP primary before ending his campaign and endorsing George W. Bush in July 1999.
Chris Kasson / AP
Then-House Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich made a brief run for president in the 2000 GOP primary before ending his campaign and endorsing George W. Bush in July 1999.

3. Kasich already tried running for president once before.

After nine terms in the House of Representatives, the then-Budget Committee chairman decided to throw his hat into the 2000 presidential race, touting his budget-slashing record.

"I like to have fun, I have a lot of good ideas, I have a proven track record, and, you know, what it comes down to, I'm just a little different, a little fresher than a lot of the politicians today," Kasich announced on NBC's Meet the Press in February 1999. "It's time for our generation to step up to the plate and make the big changes for America."

His candidacy never got off the ground, though. Lagging in support and money, just five months later he withdrew from the race and endorsed then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who would go on to win the nomination and the presidency.

4. Kasich is a former Fox News host.

In eyeing the White House, Kasich had decided not to seek re-election to the House in 2000. He would go on to sit on corporate boards and was a managing director at Lehman Brothers until its collapse in 2008.

But he had another new gig, too: TV host. From the Heartland with John Kasich premiered on Fox News in 2001, airing on Saturday evenings and broadcast from Columbus, Ohio, until 2007.

Here's a clip from one of his shows:

5. In college, he weaseled his way into a meeting with President Richard Nixon.

Kasich may have Nixon to thank for catching the political bug. One month into his freshman year at Ohio State, Kasich kept calling to demand a meeting with the college president until his secretary finally relented. It just so happened that the college president was heading to the White House the next day to meet with Nixon, so naturally Kasich asked to tag along. And, naturally, the OSU president refused.

But Kasich was successful in convincing him to deliver a letter to Nixon on his behalf about some of his concerns. The tagline: "P.S. If you'd like to discuss this letter further, please don't hesitate to contact me. I'll make myself available. I'm a college student. I've got time. I'll come to you."

The brash move in December 1970 worked. Two weeks later, a letter arrived from the White House saying that Nixon would like to meet with the college freshman. A promised five-minute meeting went on for 20 minutes.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jessica Taylor is a political reporter with NPR based in Washington, DC, covering elections and breaking news out of the White House and Congress. Her reporting can be heard and seen on a variety of NPR platforms, from on air to online. For more than a decade, she has reported on and analyzed House and Senate elections and is a contributing author to the 2020 edition of The Almanac of American Politics and is a senior contributor to The Cook Political Report.
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