WASHINGTON — “I didn’t anticipate this,” Ohio Gov. John Kasich said Tuesday afternoon to the several dozen reporters waiting for him in the lobby of the Republican National Committee headquarters. “I thought it’d be three people here.”
“Well, as you probably know, I’m going to have a big announcement on the 21st,” Kasich said, teasing his expected entrance into the presidential race in a few weeks. “Anybody coming?”
“It could be about my political career. Or it could be that I’m going to Hollywood,” the former congressman cracked. “We’ll see.”
For now, Kasich’s biggest task is getting his poll numbers up.
As of this week, Kasich is polling at just one and two percent in most national polls, putting him in 13th place, according to the Real Clear Politics polling average. That’s a problem for someone trying to position himself as a top-tier alternative to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
The first nationally televised debate is set for next month in Ohio, but Fox News — Kasich’s former employer — says only the Republicans who poll in the top 10 will be included in the showdown. (A b-team forum will be held for the Republicans who don’t poll in the top 10 the same day as the debate).
Asked about whether’s he concerned Donald Trump’s recent popularity with voters will keep him off the debate stage, Kasich replied: “I’m not really thinking about it. I got other issues I got to think about.”
“Let’s not put carts before horses,” he added. “I mean, we still have a month to go. We’ll see what happens.”
Pressed on whether he thinks he will get his poll numbers up and make it into the top-tier debate, he replied: “I don’t make predictions. I left that to Muhammad Ali years ago.”
Asked during the press conference by a reporter about Donald Trump’s recent comments about illegal immigrants from Mexico, Kasich said: “Well, first of all, I don’t really respond to anybody’s comments.”
But Kasich went on to say he doesn’t agree with Trump’s “characterization” because he’s “a believer that the country needs to be unified, not divided.”
“At least for the next couple weeks, I’d like to honor Reagan’s 11th commandment about attacking fellow Republicans,” he added.
Asked why he’s getting in the race later than others, Kasich said he’s been focused on Ohio.
“Ohio is a big state,” he said. “It’s a complicated state. It’s a microcosm of the country. So I needed to take care of Ohio and continue to take care of Ohio before I worry about any national prominence or anything else.”
A reporter asked Kasich about how he’s been compared to Jon Huntsman, the former Republican governor who entered the 2012 race with much buzz only to perform poorly.
“I’ve never really studied his campaign, or frankly others,” Kasich said. “It’s not something I spend a lot of time on.”
“I got John Weaver working with me,” he said of Huntsman’s former top campaign aide. “I just talked to him a few minutes ago. He was actually a big senior adviser to McCain. Last time I checked, he was the nominee a few election cycles ago.”
Making his pitch, Kasich referenced his re-election in 2014. “I won 86 out of 88 counties, 63 percent of the women vote, 51 percent of union households in one of the largest victories in Ohio history. There must be something that I’m doing right there in order to do that in what’s one of the most pivotal states.”
Kasich also portrayed himself as someone who gets the struggles of regular people.
“I’m John Kasich,” he said. “I’m not anybody else. I come from McKees Rocks. My father carried mail on his back. I’ve lived in a town where if the wind blew the wrong way, people found themselves out of work. And I think I understand the anxieties of people in this country, many of whom are middle class, who wonder if the American dream is over. And I don’t believe that it is.”
Added Kasich: “I’ve had a lot of blessings in my life. The Lord’s been good to me. And I’m going to do my best to lead and to improve people’s lives whether I sit in the White House or whether in the white house in Lanetta Avenue in Westerville Ohio in being governor.”
Kasich said he is in town visiting former colleagues and for a meeting of his new steering committee of lawmakers and members of the business community this evening.
The governor said he brought his twin daughters along for the Washington trip too. “I’ve learned an awful lot about Snapchat.”