By Gabriel Rom
GOP presidential candidate and Ohio Gov. John Kasich is struggling in the polls, but as primary season moves eastward, he made his case Wednesday afternoon to New York voters at a MSNBC town hall event at St. Helen Catholic Academy in Howard Beach.
When Kasich prepared to walk on stage, an onlooker shook his head in disbelief.
“I can’t remember the last time I saw a presidential candidate in Queens,” the man said to no one in particular.
Kasich lags behind both Republican rivals Ted Cruz and Donald Trump in the polls, but now on what he has called his home turf, Kasich presented himself as a more moderate alternative to the brashness of his two competitors. “For the first time in this campaign, people are finally starting to hear my message,” Kasich said.
Referring to Queens residents as “god-fearing” people who “have common sense,” Kasich appealed to middle-class values, his reform brand of conservatism and his electability vs. Democrats.
Pushing a message of “compassionate conservatism,” Kasich focused on “giving lives back” to non-violent criminals, prison reform and vocational school reform.
“I don’t hate the establishment,” Kasich said. “But I can move the establishment.”
Chuck Todd, the event moderator, pushed Kasich on racial-inequality in his home state of Ohio.
“There are always politics behind statistics,” Kasich said, as he dodged the question.
He then offered a stat of his own, championing the fact that he won 26 percent of the black vote when he ran for governor in Ohio.
At least four times during the town hall, Kasich contrasted himself with Trump and presented himself as an optimist who did not win votes by scaring people. He emphasized that he recognized popular frustrations and was able to show people a way out.
“Trump depresses people,” Kasich said, calling his rhetoric “all doom-and-gloom.”
Kasich, however, seemed reluctant to fully criticize the favorite for the GOP nominee.
“If you send someone (to Washington) who doesn’t know how the system works, we will drift,” he said.
When faced with a question from a Trump supporter, Kasich quickly responded with his electability argument.
Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), the only Queens Republican in the Council, said he supports Kasich because of his ability to unify disparate wings of the party.
“He did it in Ohio, he can do it all across America,” Ulrich said.
Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at grom@