Sixteen years after launching a short-lived campaign for the White House, John Kasich is giving it another shot.
Kasich, the Ohio governor who served nearly two decades in Congress and established himself as a leading Republican deficit hawk, announced Tuesday morning that he will run for president in 2016.
He made the declaration from the student union of Ohio State University, where he attended school more than 40 years ago.
"I am here to ask you for your prayers, for your support, for your efforts, because I have decided to run for president of the United States," said Kasich, the 16th prominent Republican to officially enter the race.
It represents a return to the national stage for Kasich, who as chairman of the House Budget Committee in the 1990s played a starring role in the fiscal fights between the GOP-controlled Congress and Clinton administration. Having been elected to nine terms in the House, Kasich in 1999 launched a campaign for president—but it lasted only five months, as he was steamrolled by the George W. Bush machine. Kasich never even made it to the primaries.
In exiting the race, however, he told David Broder of The Washington Post, "I'm not giving up my dream to be president."
Upon returning to public life in 2010 with a triumphant victory over incumbent Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, Kasich started tallying policy victories in a way that made his dream appear closer to reality than anyone could have expected. He slashed income taxes, curbed abortion rights, reformed food-stamp programs, and even took on the unions, passing an anti-collective-bargaining measure that was later overturned by statewide referendum.
By the end of his first term, Kasich's popularity was through the roof, and his 30-point victory in November 2014—in a state that Republicans have never won the White House without—sparked a sudden wave of speculation about Kasich's presidential timber.
But Kasich, despite the conservative boxes he checked in those first four years, has also repeatedly rankled the GOP base with his policy stances. He's a strong supporter of Common Core and comprehensive immigration reform. And his biggest betrayal, in the eyes of Republicans from Columbus to Washington, is his relentless push for Medicaid expansion in Ohio.
In an introduction, former Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire said Kasich "has always been about conscience."
"He didn't worry about polls, he didn't worry about popularity," Sununu said. "He did what he thought was right: for his family, for his neighbors, for his state, and for his country."
Kasich is unapologetic and often sounds eager to pick fights with his party brethren rather than retreat from them. Earlier this year, he told National Journal how he finds it "amusing ... that the conservative movement—a big chunk of which is faith-based—seems to have never read Matthew 25." (Kasich, a Catholic-turned-evangelical Christian, frequently cites Scripture in rebuking his fellow Republicans for opposing policies designed to help the poor.)
Kasich said during his announcement speech that he believes in the need for people to work hard and pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
But "some people just don't have the fortune that many of us have," Kasich said. "And they struggle. They struggle for a whole lifetime and they worry ... can they rise? Can they pull the rest of their family members up the ladder—the promise of America? And they worry about it."
Later, Kasich seemed to call out those who oppose his emphasis on social-justice issues.
"The Lord wants our hearts to reach out to those that don't have what we have," he said. "I mean, that shouldn't be hard for America. That's who we are."
This type of rhetoric has made Kasich an enemy of some tea-partiers and evangelicals, but it has made him wildly popular among the general electorate in Ohio. When Quinnipiac polled Ohio voters in October 2014 on the question of whether Kasich "cares about the needs and problems of people like you," 55 percent said yes and only 34 percent said no. When asked whether Kasich has "strong leadership qualities," 70 percent said yes, and only 21 percent said no.
Those numbers, in concert with Kasich's stances on hot-button issues, promote the "electability" argument that could separate him from much of the field. Of course, to stand a chance of becoming the nominee, he'll have to take on another Bush—this time, George W.'s younger brother Jeb, whose similar policy profile has positioned him as the right-of-center favorite. But Bush's stumbles out of the gate have only emboldened the Ohio governor, as Kasich himself acknowledged in early June.
"I didn't think I was going to be back up here again because, frankly, I thought Jeb was just going to suck all the air out of the room, and it just hasn't happened," Kasich told business leaders in New Hampshire.
During his announcement, Kasich painted himself as someone who has always worked against long odds, who has always bucked those who "said it couldn't be done."
He reflected on his first election, a long-shot bid for the Ohio state Senate when he wasn't yet 25. Through that contest, and the actual job, he learned to wrangle up supporters and work across the aisle.
"That is where I learned that policy is far more important than politics, ideology, or any other nonsense we see," Kasich said, as if talking directly to those who oppose his more moderate positions.
Kasich's campaign will rely heavily on two veteran operatives, John Weaver and Fred Davis, to break through a crowded GOP field. Weaver, the senior strategist, and Davis, the legendary ad-maker, teamed up in 2012 to help a moderate, underdog candidate whose path to the nomination depended on the stumbles of an establishment front-runner. That candidate was Jon Huntsman, who dropped out after after a third-place finish in the New Hampshire primary and then endorsed eventual nominee Mitt Romney.