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What to watch for from Gov. Kasich tonight

Tonight begins the 2016 presidential campaign season in earnest, as the first debate will be held right here in Ohio.

Two days ago, Fox announced their final lineup of the top 10 candidates who will appear at the main event, and Governor Kasich was able to eek in to the #10 slot. So what will we be hearing from him tonight?

I don’t expect Kasich to go after the other candidates or even Hillary much, if at all.

This is Kasich’s national coming-out party. And he has a huge opportunity, and obligation, to define himself to a national audience that really doesn’t know him.

Take this Gallup survey of all of the candidates. Check out who has the absolute lowest familiarity in the entire field.

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It’s John Kasich, at only 35%. We may know him well here in Ohio, of course, but the rest of the country clearly doesn’t.

That’s a challenge he certainly needs to overcome, and making it onstage for this debate is his biggest opportunity so far to do so. Why?

I believe three factors will make this one of the highest rated primary debates we’ve ever seen.

  1. It’s the first debate of the season.
  2. The anticipation has been building for weeks over which 10 candidates would make it onstage. I think part of the reason Fox chose this format was to build a little drama and increase their ratings.
  3. The biggest reason of all: The Trump factor. People who wouldn’t normally watch a primary debate are going to tune in to see if Donald Trump turns the event into a circus.

Look for Kasich to avoid going negative at all, and to maximize his screen time by introducing himself and talking about his record. He will not only want to boost that familiarity rating, but also his “favorable” rating by telling voters about the following:

  • The turnaround of Ohio under his watch. We will hear the familiar stats about the budget shortfall he inherited, the maximizing of Ohio’s rainy day fund and keeping the budget balanced all while cutting taxes.
  • Gaining back all of the jobs lost under his predecessor.
  • His long list of experience as a Congressman, budget committee chairman, and executive experience as Ohio’s governor.
  • His “compassionate conservative” side and care about the “people living in the shadows”.

The real question is, will Kasich be able to stand out from the other 9 candidates on stage? If Donald Trump says something outrageous or engages in some mud-slinging with one of the other candidates, for example, that is what will grab the headlines. Not what a single candidate like Kasich has to say.

Of course, I could be totally wrong, and Kasich could end up going with a more aggressive strategy. We will find out tonight.


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Third Base Politics is an Ohio-centric conservative blog that has been featured at Hot Air, National Review, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and others.

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