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Ohio Gov. John Kasich Focuses On New Hampshire In Early Primary Race
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Ohio Gov. John Kasich Focuses On New Hampshire In Early Primary Race

Elections

Ohio Gov. John Kasich Focuses On New Hampshire In Early Primary Race

Ohio Gov. John Kasich Focuses On New Hampshire In Early Primary Race
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Republican presidential hopeful John Kasich is making New Hampshire his main focus. NPR explores what his campaign hopes to achieve.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

While most of the presidential field is in Iowa today, Ohio Governor John Kasich is still in New Hampshire. The Republican candidate has held more town hall meetings in the state than any other. Today marks the 80th. Here he is at an earlier event in the small town of New Boston.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN KASICH: I really, really, really would like your vote, OK? I mean, I hope you'll think about it seriously 'cause I'd like to go on with this message, and if I get snuffed out in New Hampshire, it's ball game over.

CORNISH: NPR's Asma Khalid has been following the Ohio governor and joins us now from New Hampshire. Welcome, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: All right, Asma, you've been to some of these town halls. What are they like?

KHALID: Well, Audie, they're small. They're really intimate, and, you know, sometimes they're held at a tavern or a VFW hall. And at some of these events, the governor is sandwiched between an American flag and a national debt clock for dramatic effect, that, you know, it keeps going up as he's talking. And Kasich doesn't really give a long stump speech. He talks for roughly 15 or 20 minutes. You know, he tells voters about what's on his mind, and then he quickly opens up the room to questions. And what I've seen, Audie, is that he's appealing to an ideological spectrum - independents, Democrats and Republicans. There was one woman, Christy Belvin, that I met earlier this morning, and here's what she likes about Kasich.

CHRISTY BELVIN: He's willing to make compromise with other people in order to get things accomplished. I'm just tired of the extreme-right and the extreme-left running the agenda.

KHALID: And even among people who told me that they're still uncommitted, they told me that they like that Kasich is reasonable, pragmatic and moderate.

CORNISH: We heard the Ohio governor's worrying out loud there about getting snuffed out in New Hampshire, saying the ball game would be over. What is the campaign hoping happens in New Hampshire?

KHALID: I think the goal is really just a decent second-place finish. He essentially has to beat out Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Marco Rubio. I spoke with his chief strategist earlier today who was careful to remind me that there are different ways to win New Hampshire without actually coming in first place. So if the Ohio governor does better than expected here, he could gather more establishment support around him.

CORNISH: But is there a sense that all of this time that he's spending there is paying off?

KHALID: Well, Audie, he has had a microsurge - you know, if you could call it that - in recent days. Today, the Concord Monitor endorsed him, and yesterday, The Boston Globe, which, you know, is a widely read paper in this region, also endorsed him. And Kasich also has some key power players in New Hampshire politics who've lined up behind him, you know, folks who helped Mitt Romney and John McCain win the state.

But, you know, that is to say that this is a year where traditional politics aren't really trending, so, you know, it's unclear what that'll actually mean. That being said, both Kasich and his super PAC are also spending lots of money here. The governor is planning to have more than a hundred town halls here. And so even if he does finish in second place in New Hampshire, I think the big question is does he have legitimate staying power.

CORNISH: You mention traditional politics not exactly trending. I mean, Kasich is trying to get his voice heard in a campaign season that's been dominated by one guy, right?

KHALID: (Laughter) That's right. I mean, Donald Trump has been leading essentially every poll here in New Hampshire since July. And what's important to know about New Hampshire is that, you know, it's not Iowa. It is a primary where undeclared voters - those are people who are independent, who identify that way - can choose a Republican or Democratic ballot on primary day. And to be honest, Kasich is not the only candidate who's been spending time in New Hampshire this week when the focus is on Iowa. Both New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Donald Trump have been here this week, too.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Asma Khalid in New Hampshire. Asma, thanks so much.

KHALID: My pleasure, Audie.

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