Intrigue has followed Ohio Gov. John Kasich to South Carolina.
Days after finishing second in the New Hampshire Republican primary and drawing hundreds more attendees than anticpated at events around the state, Kasich easily drew the largest crowd of the three presidential candidates to visit Sun City Hilton Head this week.
Helped by his surge in New Hampshire and the warm, sunny weather Friday afternoon, about 900 people encircled the Pavilion at Sun City to hear Kasich speech, according to estimates from his campaign.
The candidate himself couldn’t believe it.
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“Didn’t you have anything else to do tonight?” he joked after being introduced by state Rep. Jeff Bradley.
Kasich’s campaign, much like Friday’s weather, has heated up in recent days. Appearances in the Charleston area on Wednesday drew much larger crowds than originally expected, with 300 people surrounding a pizza parlor in Mount Pleasant to hear Kasich speak, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
In the hourlong town hall at Sun City, Kasich answered several questions about the federal budget, national security and foreign policy given by Sun City residents, but his answers focused primarily on the lessons he learned growing up and how they influenced his personal ideologies.
He regaled the crowd with his tale of meeting Richard Nixon in the White House as an 18-year-old college freshman in 1970, a story that’s become a staple of his campaign stops. He joked the 20 minutes he spent in the Oval Office waiting for Nixon were more than the amount of time he was there as a member of Congress from 1983 to 2001.
One of the primary topics he brought up was a balanced budget, noting how he worked to balance the federal budget in 1997 and correct a budget shortfall in Ohio. Kasich has long been a supporter of a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution and said he would work to get one passed as president, but he noted that Republicans failed to pass one after his balanced budget act in 1997.
“Democrats love to spend,” he said. “Republicans love to spend too; they just feel guilty about it.”
Later, he urged both parties to work together — comparing them to children fighting when he was a boy — saying it would be impossible to fix Social Security and create a balanced budget without the support of both parties. In his opening speech, Kasich also alluded to a willingness to break from party stances.
“The Republican Party is my vehicle, but it is not my master,” he said. “I am an American before anything else.”
While fellow Republican candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio knocked Donald Trump during their stops in Sun City, Kasich avoided a question from an attendee about how the Republicans “could stop Trump.” Kasich was also asked what the party would do about a brokered convention, answering that he felt optimistic about a brokered convention in Cleveland if it came to that.
He went on to slam negative campaigning during the New Hampshire primary, not that it slowed his momentum.
“In case you didn’t notice, the light overcame the darkness of negative campaigning,” he said to cheers.
One of the few barbs he did throw was at Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, who he joked he wanted to be president — just not of the United States.
“I want Bernie Sanders to be president of Ben & Jerry’s so I can get free ice cream,” he said.