By BETH REINHARD – – – –
John Kasich isn’t sure how he got to be the runner-up to Donald Trump in Tuesday’s New Hampshire GOP primary, an achievement that is drawing more South Carolina voters to his under-the-radar presidential campaign.
“Frankly no one would have thought I would finish in second place, way ahead of everybody else, in New Hampshire,” Mr. Kasich told a crowd of about 150 people. “Nobody even knew what my name was, right?’’
He added: “People are starting to pay attention and they’re either going to like me or they’re not,” Mr. Kasich said.
The pitch from the Ohio governor and former congressman: I’m not an “establishment” candidate but I’m not “anti-establishment” either.
To be sure, Mr. Kasich’s decades of experience in government put him in the establishment wing of the party. But he has also built a reputation for bucking GOP orthodoxy by supporting Medicaid expansion in his state and the annual congressional review of military bases — positions that could haunt him in a staunchly conservative, military-friendly state like South Carolina.
“I wanted to see what the people in New Hampshire saw in him,” said Gavin McCully, the 37-year-old CEO of a technology start-up that hosted Mr. Kasich on Wednesday. “People like me are taking a look at him now.”
Tom Fressilli, a 65-year-old retired Navy officer, said Mr. Kasich is going to have to toughen up if he’s going to take on “extreme” rivals like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, who finished first and third, respectively, in New Hampshire.
“As a moderate, he’s going to have to be more aggressive,” Mr. Fressilli said. “He’s a nice guy, and that saying about nice guys finish last comes to mind.”
Allies of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who came in fourth place in New Hampshire, are trying undermine Mr. Kasich by questioning his commitment to national defense and his financial resources for a potentially protracted primary.
“Governor Kasich has little to no chance in South Carolina and does not have a national organization that can compete,” according to a memo sent by Mr. Bush’s campaign to supporters.