AP Conversation: Kasich bets against voter anger

BOW, N.H. (AP) — John Kasich isn't angry.

And he's betting his presidential aspirations that voters aren't angry, either — despite the sustained political strength of leading Republicans he says are taking the country "into the dark."

Trekking through New Hampshire, the Ohio governor Kasich preferred not to go after his Republican rivals during an extended interview with The Associated Press. Same with Democrats. No, this man is trying to win the presidency on his terms, which run counter to fundamental assumptions about the mood of voters.

"I don't think they're angry at all," Kasich says. "I think they're upset things are not going well for them. Their wages are stuck, a lot of things like that. But they really want to hear answers. And they want to be hopeful. Look, when people leave my town halls, a lot of them say, I'm hopeful again. Because these problems are not that hard. It's all political mumbo-jumbo that's screwing everything up."

More than anything, the blunt governor condemned the angry politics that have shaped the 2016 Republican primary election. This, during an AP Conversation, the latest in a series of interviews with the presidential candidates. Kasich spoke to the AP aboard his campaign bus in New Hampshire, the unofficial staging ground for his underdog candidacy.

He is far less than known than some of his Republican competitors nationwide, but in New Hampshire at least, Kasich appears to be surging.

Even as his competitors run from their political experience to tap the outsider vibe, Kasich embraces his 18 years in Congress and five years leading one of the nation's most important swing states. In tone, message and experience, he occupies a unique political space in the packed 2016 Republican primary.

"You cannot put me in anybody else's lane," he said. "That's why we're rising."

Despite his outlook, the 63-year-old Republican is fighting to stand out among other candidates from the GOP's mainstream wing: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Marco Rubio. They are all looking up at Donald Trump, who has tapped into a deep sense of frustration with Iowa's leadoff caucuses less than two weeks away.

Kasich laughed in disbelief when asked whether he might drop out of the race before New Hampshire's Feb. 9 primary. That's just what some party leaders would like, fearing there are too many candidates dividing the electorate and thereby allowing Trump and Ted Cruz to grow stronger.

"I'm 19 days from New Hampshire, I'm in second place, and you're asking me if I'm thinking about getting out?" Kasich asked. "When they ask me the most ridiculous thing I've ever been asked, I'm going to remember this moment."

Kasich said he's providing a style of leadership that's needed this election season.

"A leader doesn't lead people down some dark alley," Kasich said. "A leader says, 'Hey, look at the road ahead.'"

As he sees it, he's "part of a contagious movement to make people feel as though they're involved in something bigger than themselves."

Kasich has achieved strong approval ratings in Ohio, in part by often refusing to criticize rivals in either party. That doesn't mean he's satisfied with President Barack Obama's leadership — especially on the economy and executive actions on immigration and background checks for guns. He says Obama gave the country "the weakest recovery we've had out of a serious recession since World War II."

Yet he suggests Republicans have gone too far in trying to tear down Obama.

"To disrespect the office of the president? I saw the Democrats do it to George Bush and it was ugly. I think in our country, we need to respect presidents, teachers, ministers, rabbis, our elders."

Kasich declined to comment directly on Trump or Cruz when pressed, saying he wanted to avoid "going down that rabbit hole."

He'd prefer to talk about how his meetings with people in New Hampshire are anger-free zones.

"Why is there no anger when I'm there, can you explain that?" he asked. "It's because we are thinking something is there that isn't there, or we have people who lead them down the path into the dark. It's easy to get people feeling bad."

But Kasich has "never had a better time in politics."


AP News Survey Specialist Emily Swanson in Washington contributed to this report.


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