WESTERVILLE, Ohio — John Kasich’s presidential campaign is the 2016 equivalent of the neighborhood in Edward Scissorhands: so bizarrely pleasant and clean that you’re certain something must be wrong.
Kasich is running as the anti-Donald Trump: He’s so normal that it’s weird -- off-putting, even. And so far, it seems to work. A new CBS News poll of Ohio conducted late last week showed March 9-11 of 1,742 registered voters showed the Ohio governor and the former reality TV star tied at 33 percent.
The Ohio governor spent the last 48 hours before the most consequential Election Day of his life -- and, maybe, one of the most consequential Election Days of all our lives -- by bopping from town hall to Ohio town hall, talking about the importance of reducing the regulatory burden on small businesses and being kind to elderly neighbors. Mitt Romney joined him as he spoke to well-mannered crowds of politely-clapping suburbanites.
Even Kasich’s protesters said they would consider voting for him.
In a Republican primary season dominated by fascistic attacks on reporters and protracted discussions of Trump’s junk, there is still apparently an appetite for the unrelenting affability of the Midwest.
Part of that might be that it’s Kasich and this is Ohio. The two-term governor has been involved in Buckeye State politics since 1979 when he was first elected to the statehouse. Since then, he spent 18 years in the U.S. House of Representatives before spending the past six years as governor. Kasich not only won re-election in 2014, winning nearly twice as many votes as the hilariously flawed challenger Democrats put up against him (they managed to find the only man in the Midwest who didn’t have a driver’s license -- impressive, when you think about it), Kasich won all but two of Ohio’s 88 counties.
And some of the people who voted for him then seem inclined to vote for him again -- pleased to go to campaign events where reporters don’t get spat on and rednecks don’t scream “Go back to fucking Auschwitz!”
“It didn’t have any tension to it,” said Westerville native Eric Showalter, who attended Kasich’s final event with Romney. “It was good and positive.”
Showalter joined a few hundred other Columbus suburbanites in a high school gym, happily bobbing back and forth to Walk the Moon’s bubbly hit “Shut Up And Dance With Me” as Kasich, his wife Karen, and Romney strode onto a makeshift stage, looking like they’d just jumped out of a Brooks Brothers catalog.
Kasich delivered a stump speech that was entirely devoid of anger, pessimism, or even crabbiness.
“I don’t care about politics!” he said amiably and to applause.
“I am responsible to have a good reputation for you,” he added later. “I am here to be a good role model as best as I can for these kids, my daughters. And I want to tell you something: I will never take a low road to the highest office in the land.”
The crowd burst into happy cheers.
It was a line he repeated at just about every campaign stop, and it consistently drew delight. The big Kasich bus would roll up, U2’s “Beautiful Day” would blast, gleeful Ohioans would clap for the appropriate amount of time, and Kasich would squint-smile as he told them about the value in inviting elderly neighbor ladies to Sunday dinner. The Lord made everybody special, Kasich would add. At one stop, he encourage attendees to watch less news so they would feel happier. He noted that he only watches the Golf Channel on his campaign bus and that he doesn’t want a smartphone.
“You think I want emails all day long?” he said. “Forget it.”
They thought that was funny.
And the governor’s power-affable persona seemed to go over pretty gosh darn well, as he might say. The Daily Beast spoke with numerous event-attendees who said they were Democrats planning to change their party registration on Tuesday to vote for him in the Republican primary.
Even a mother-daughter pair of protesters at his last event Sunday night said they were open to backing him. The pair, Joan Gibson and Jen Johnson, stood politely next to a tent where the governor spoke, holding signs criticizing charter schools that Kasich supports.
“We very well may vote for Kasich, just to take away the vote for Trump,” said Johnson, standing under a periwinkle sunset sky as “Wagon Wheel” played over the loudspeakers.
“We’re not anti-Kasich,” she added. “But we’re very unhappy with what he has done for education.”
A few feet away, Dan Votaw, who identified himself as a liberal Democrat, said he was also considering casting a Kasich vote.
“I would vote in the Republican primary because I think Kasich is the best choice,” he said, adding that he would also be fine with either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders as president.
Kasich also siphoned off a few notoriously loyal Trump voters.
Edna Jenkins, a sign-painter who wore paint-spattered flannel at the same event, said she liked Trump until he started using bad language.
“I have grandbabies,” she said. “I would not want my children to listen to what was on those debates, that come out of their mouths. I wouldn’t. And isn’t that what this country is about? Bringin’ up the little ones the best way?”
She said she hopes Cruz and Kasich run on the same ticket.
The next morning in Youngstown, Kasich maintained his rapaciously nice persona.
“We’re gonna be just fine, we’re gonna be just fine,” he told a polite crowd in a warehouse.
At the next event, Romney joined Kasich on stage where he confused everyone by almost-but-not-quite endorsing the governor for president.
“You look at this guy and unlike the other people running, he has a real track record,” Romney said. “He has the kind of record that you want in Washington, and that's why I’m convinced that you’re going to do the right thing tomorrow. Agreed?”
He then plopped down in a chair on stage, crossed his arms tightly, and wince-smiled as Kasich noted that the former Massachusetts governor “just looks like a president!”
At one point, security guards removed a protester from the event. The man, Ralph Case, hoisted a large anti-NAFTA sign that blocked some camera views of the event. He was irritated that security made him leave.
“They were pretty rude,” he told The Daily Beast. “They didn’t touch me, but, just the verbal language.”
That said, Kasich’s final 48 hours weren’t totally polite. When asked about Romney’s comments, one attendee, Judy Sours, just smiled and drew her hand across her throat.
And while many attendees were delighted by the Norman Rockwell vibe of Kasich’s event, others were less sentimental.
Robert Fott, an elderly Marine Corps veteran, said he planned to back Kasich -- but not because of any starry-eyed idealism.
“I’ve been thinking about it a while,” he said, explaining his decision. “Everybody is worse shit.”