Ohio Gov. and Republican presidential candidate John Kasich touted tax cuts and cast himself as someone who can bring together people on different sides of issues as he spoke Wednesday to supporters in Metairie.
Kasich is a long shot for the GOP nomination and is hoping to win his home state and other Midwestern states to put him into contention with front-runner Donald Trump and U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
But there’s a clear gap in expectations for Kasich and Trump in Louisiana, even among those working for the governor. While a Trump rally in Baton Rouge last month brought 10,000 people to the Baton Rouge River Center, staff at Kasich’s town hall event at The Forum on Veterans Memorial Boulevard had to apologize for a lack of seating at the start because the 150 people who showed up were more than they had planned for.
Still, the Ohio governor has support from some local officials in advance of the March 5 Republican primary in Louisiana. Jefferson Parish Councilwoman Jennifer Van Vrancken introduced Kasich, and north shore District Attorney Warren Montgomery led the pledge of allegiance.
Some of the audience members praised Kasich’s demeanor, which has been more even-tempered than some of his rivals in what has been a volatile primary race.
“Thank you for being the only adult in the room during the debates,” one audience member said, referring to a debate earlier this month that for a while devolved into chaos as other candidates interrupted and yelled at each other across the stage.
Kasich touted his record of cutting budgets in Ohio to bridge a projected gap of nearly $8 billion when he came into office, arguing that the proper response to shortfalls is to cut budgets and taxes to encourage business growth.
Comparing government budgets to a small business, he said, “We ought to cut our prices and cut our overhead, and we’ll get more customers.”
It’s not clear how that message will resonate with Louisiana voters as the Legislature seeks to plug a $900 million shortfall by the end of June and a $2 billion shortfall next fiscal year, following eight years of tax cuts and budget maneuvers under former Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, once one of Kasich’s opponents for the nomination.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has said there’s little fat to trim and that new taxes are needed to fill the gap and prevent catastrophic cuts to higher education. While that plan has met resistance from Republicans in the House, their proposal, which includes deeper budget cuts, still relies in part on raising taxes.
Several audience members brought up health care issues, prompting a promise from Kasich to repeal the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, and replace it with a system that will not require the purchase of insurance and will put fewer requirements on insurance companies to cover specific procedures.
On security matters, Kasich called for a more aggressive strategy targeting the Islamic State and opposed President Barack Obama’s plan to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay.
With Apple and the FBI at odds over whether the company should have to unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernadino, California, shooters, Kasich said he would put both sides in a room until they came to an agreement.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.