COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) - Republican John Kasich promised to use his decades of political experience in Washington and the U.S. heartland to create jobs and tighten government spending as he made a relatively late entry to the 2016 race for the White House on Tuesday.
Kasich, the popular governor of Ohio and a former leading U.S. congressman, is likely to be the last prominent Republican to enter the field, which is now up to 16 candidates. His emphasis on long government service runs counter to other candidates, such as Jeb Bush, who are positioning themselves as outsiders.
Speaking at Ohio State University, Kasich offered fiscal discipline, a stronger military and compassionate conservative vision for the poor if he overcomes long odds to win the Republican nomination and then the November 2016 election.
Many Republican candidates are keen to avoid being seen as professional politicians but two-time governor Kasich, 63, listed his long time in government, including 18 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, as evidence he can run the country.
“I believe I do have the skills and I have the experience and the testing which shapes you and prepares you for the most important job in the world,” Kasich, who mounted a short-lived run for the nomination in the 2000 race, told supporters.
A moderate Republican with a reputation for having a short temper, he needs to make a mark quickly to qualify for the party’s first debate on Aug. 6.
He ranks 14th out of 16 Republican candidates in a Reuters/Ipsos online poll, and he is in 12th place in the RealClearPolitics average of polls.
That puts him in danger of not qualifying for the first Republican debate on Fox News which will only accept candidates in the top 10 in national polls.
A selling point for Kasich is the economic recovery in Ohio, a swing state that is likely to be a political battleground in 2016. He boasts he guided the state’s budget from an $8 billion deficit to surplus without raising taxes, although Democrats say U.S. economic recovery played a major part.
Kasich is popular in Ohio. A Quinnipiac University poll in June gave him a 54 percent job approval rating here.
As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Kasich played a key role in balancing the federal budget with a bipartisan deal in 1997. “Everybody knows me as the budget guy,” he said.
“I will promise you that my top priority will get this country on a path to fiscal independence, strength, and we will rebuild the economy of this country because creating jobs is our highest moral purpose,” he said.
The U.S. military would be an exception to tight government spending, he said, because the United States needs to restore its role in the world.
Conservatives have criticized Kasich for taking federal money for an expansion of Medicaid in Ohio under President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law.
But Kasich laid out a case for a compassionate conservatism that would help drug addicts, the working poor and the disabled, as well as keep the mentally ill out of prison.
“The Lord wants our hearts to reach out to those that don’t have what we have. I mean, that shouldn’t be hard for America. That’s who we are,” he said.
Kasich said he learned about business as an executive at Lehman Brothers. The bank collapsed when he worked there in 2008 helping trigger the global financial crisis and recession that followed.
Kasich flies later on Tuesday to the early-voting state of New Hampshire, which will be key to his campaign strategy.
Writing by Alistair Bell and Alex Wilts in Washington; Editing by Cynthia Osterman