Ohio Gov. John Kasich told an audience of supporters in Madison on Monday that he is the candidate with the best shot at winning the White House in November, and the one best suited to lead the country as president.
Though he didn’t mention them by name, Kasich derided the policies of his rivals Donald Trump and Ted Cruz as “amateur hour” responses that were the result of their inexperience, and said he is the candidate who will confront the threat of terrorism and repair partisan divisions at home.
“We’re fighting for the future of our children,” Kasich said. “This is not the time to play around or to play politics. ... This is a time for leadership.”
Kasich spoke for about an hour to several hundred supporters during a town hall-style forum at the Madison Sheraton Hotel. He took five questions from audience members on topics such as the federal budget, law enforcement and repairing the fractured Republican party.
Monday evening’s event in Madison was Kasich’s second of the day in Wisconsin, after a similar forum at a La Crosse County steel company.
Each of the remaining Republican and Democratic candidates are campaigning in Wisconsin this week ahead of the state’s April 5 primary.
Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson and former Congressman Scott Klug introduced Kasich. Thompson praised him as a candidate who “can reach across the aisle, get things done and make us all proud.”
But Kasich has faced criticism from Republicans backing Cruz, the U.S. Senator from Texas, who have said Kasich’s campaign is splitting the vote in their bid to derail Trump, hurting their effort when he doesn’t have a path to victory.
There is no way Kasich can garner enough delegates to win the nomination outright. His campaign on Monday acknowledged it was pulling its radio advertising in eastern Wisconsin as part of an effort to “put our resources where we think we have the best chance,” Kasich said, according to the La Crosse Tribune.
In his fiery introduction, Thompson pushed back against the idea that a vote for Kasich helped Trump, saying it’s Kasich who will do best in a general election against former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
“Since (Kasich) is the only candidate that definitely will win ... a vote for Donald Trump and Sen. Cruz is a vote for Hillary Clinton,” Thompson said.
While Kasich is still looking to win Wisconsin, his campaign also hopes to pick up extra delegates where it can — such as in the 2nd Congressional District that Klug once represented and which includes the Madison area. Whoever wins Wisconsin as a whole next week will claim 18 delegates, but the state also awards three delegates to the winner in each of its eight congressional districts.
“This is an area that is very important to us,” Kasich said.
Should Kasich and Cruz force a contested Republican National Convention next summer, Kasich said delegates there will have to consider two things: Who can win in a general election and “who can actually run the country?” Kasich said he was the candidate who could do both.
It was Kasich’s more moderate positions that long ago earned him the support of Monica Simpson, a Madison resident who attended Monday’s event. Simpson liked that Kasich opposes abortion rights, but said she also appreciated that he helped the poor by accepting federal funding to expand Medicaid in Ohio.
“I did my research early on,” Simpson said. “He’s always been my favorite, and I was happy that he stuck it out.”
And, Simpson said, she liked that Kasich “hasn’t resorted to dirty tactics” in his campaign.
UW-Madison student Jack Penders said Kasich wasn’t always his choice for president — Penders originally backed Gov. Scott Walker and later U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.
“At first, he didn’t stick out as much,” Penders said of Kasich.
“But over time, as the field has thinned and I’ve gotten to hear more of what he has to say,” Penders said, he found Kasich’s views on the economy and student loan debt matched his own.