Elections

Kasich rides the center line during Hilton Head forum

In a Republican presidential race dominated by over-the-top personalities, candidate and Ohio Gov. John Kasich pleaded with Hilton Head Island supporters for moderation on Wednesday night.

Conservative voters must consider what's realistic over what's most bombastic, he told more than 100 local Republicans in the ballroom of the Sonesta Resort Hilton Head Island.

"I'm very, very concerned that the Republican party present ideas that are achievable, because next fall, they're gonna put the bright light on us, and it better all add up," he said. "If it doesn't, I fear a Hillary Clinton presidency, and it doesn't have to be that way."

Kasich was joined by U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, who is moderating a series of presidential forums with the GOP hopefuls this fall. The event was Kasich's third local campaign stop since he entered the race this summer -- the only candidate to make multiple stops in Beaufort County so far.

Here is a look at four takeaways from the discussion:

After honoring the dozens of veterans in the room, Kasich and Scott turned their attention to the highly scrutinized U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Fixing the department "has got to be one of our highest priorities. Not just for veterans' health, but jobs for veterans. In Ohio, we say if you drove a truck from Kabul to Kandahar in Afghanistan, you can drive from Columbus to Cleveland. We're going to give you an automatic license," Kasich said.

Creating systems for veterans to receive credits for their military training or helping to place them in jobs would be a central focus of Kasich's new Veterans Affairs office. But the current system is so broken, he says, that he proposes decentralizing the federal office and leaving it to each state to manage.

In that vein, Kasich addressed the proposal to close the terrorist prison at Guantanamo Bay. The closure could send up to 50 inmates to the U.S., including South Carolina, and Scott has been one of its most critical opponents.

"If I'm president of the U.S., we're not closing Gitmo. I frankly don't even understand the thinking there. ... This is just silly," he said.

"Silly" is also how Kasich described Donald Trump's immigration plan during a heated exchange with the outspoken real estate mogul during Tuesday night's presidential debate.

He continued to bash the idea Wednesday.

"The idea that we're going to deport 11 million people -- yeah, I'm gonna fly to the moon tonight. It's just not gonna happen," he said.

Instead, Kasich argues that it's not prudent practically or politically to take such a severe stance on immigration. He prefers a more moderate plan that emphasizes guest worker programs and allowances for law-abiding immigrants to pay a fine but remain in the country, he said.

The criticism of Trump's plan underscores Kasich's thesis on Wednesday night: Moderation and compromise will ultimately trump Democrats a year from now.

"Even if you cheer for me, I can't do a chicken in every pot," he said. "I've gotta do what's gonna work and where the numbers add up."

Follow reporter Zach Murdock on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach and on Facebook at facebook.com/IPBGZach.

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