This Isn’t Even John Kasich’s Worst Presidential Bid
The Ohio governor finished fifth in Nevada, behind even Ben Carson. Still, this is far from his saddest run for president—in college, he lost and took the board of elections to court.
John Kasich may be trudging ahead with less than 10 percent of the Republican vote, but 2016 is only his third-most disheartening presidential bid.
In two races more disorganized than Tuesday’s Nevada caucus—in which the Ohio governor finished in fifth place and claimed a single delegate—he lost the Ohio State University student presidential elections twice, accused the Board of Elections of misconduct, took his case to court, and lost a third time.
Kasich was always involved in student government, surging to the lower middle of Ohio State University’s political pack his first year on campus. He won a seat on the Freshman Senate, where he campaigned to expand dining hall offerings at increased costs.
“If we want to take food out after meals, our fees will have to be raised to cover the expense,”' the young Kasich told the Lantern, Ohio State’s student newspaper in 1970, adding that the dining halls had lost $14,000 in stolen eating utensils in 1969.
His political star grew on campus, perhaps spurred for his advocacy against utensil theft or—more likely—his meeting with then-president Richard Nixon. Kasich, a conservative even in college, sent Nixon a letter praising him despite the president’s mounting unpopularity.
“I wrote that I thought the President was trying his best,” Kasich told the Lantern.
Nixon invited Kasich to the White House, where the two had just a “comfortable man-to-man talk,” Kasich said. “After talking to him, I think that everything Nixon does is for the good of the country and he is willing to sacrifice his political future for our good.”
The meeting earned Kasich name recognition on campus, not all of it positive.
“Enjoy your new found newsprint fame as Dick Nixon’s buddy, but don’t kid yourself into thinking that you represent ‘ALL the youth in America,’” a fellow student told Kasich in a 1971 open letter published in the Lantern.
But by Kasich’s sophomore year in 1972, his presidential chances seemed brighter than his hero’s. Just months before Nixon’s Watergate scandal began to unfold, Kasich launched a bid to become vice president of the Ohio State student government. His platform was “to ‘breathe life’ into an apathetic student body,” the Lantern reported.
Unfortunately, students were apathetic about Kasich. He and his running mate took second, losing to a pair of candidates who ran on a platform of increasing minority inclusion and improving student-police relations.
Undeterred, Kasich gave it another try in 1973, this time running for president as an independent. And this time he had come to take on Ohio State’s electoral system.
“All this time, the Watergate story had continued its hold on the front pages of the nation’s newspapers and in April the University community had its own political uproar to talk about,” historian Thomas Mendenhall writes of the 1973 elections in his book The History of the Ohio State University. “The Student Government elections, which [Ohio State president] Enarson described as ‘reminiscent of the best of Paraguay and the worst of Cuyahoga County,’ brought complaints of ballot stuffing and other irregularities.”
Early in his campaign, Kasich accused Ohio State’s Board of Elections of being too close to the Student Coalition, the political party whose candidates had defeated him the previous year.
“'I think that Jack Stets [director of the Board of Elections] should be investigated first of all because he was instrumental in putting together the Student Coalition and remains very close to it,” Kasich told the Lantern.
The move backfired. The day after Kasich accused the Board of Elections of bias, one of his fraternity brothers resigned from the board, stating that he might “unconsciously show bias” toward Kasich.
The race grew dirtier on election day. Bad weather, ballot shortages, and a limited number of voting booths led Kasich to call for an extended voting period. Board of Elections director Robert Riley denied the request and accused Kasich of seeking publicity.
Hoping to rally support for an extension, Kasich invited all presidential candidates to a meeting. Only two others attended, neither of whom wanted an extended voting period.
Still citing “substantial evidence" that the election had been mishandled, Kasich called for Riley’s resignation and threatened to take the Board of Elections to court, regardless of the race’s outcome. Days later, Kasich made good on this promise when it was announced that he had lost to opponent Dennis Sargent.
Entering a student-run court later that week, Kasich’s case seemed strong. He accused the Board of Elections of violating election rules and produced a witness who said he had been allowed to obtain three voting slips. After a series of tense testimonies, the board agreed to set new presidential elections, only to have the ruling overturned by the University Court, which ruled that Kasich had officially lost the election and that the previous results would stand.
But, as in Kasich’s presidential and vice-presidential campaigns, student voters weren’t buying it. His petition efforts failed, and his call for new president Dennis Sargent’s resignation fell on deaf ears.
Ultimately, Sargent’s running mate, Sharon Farmer, would make it closer to a White House gig than Kasich likely will. The first African-American vice president of Ohio State’s student government, Farmer went on to become Bill Clinton’s official White House photography director the first woman or African-American to hold the title.
Kasich, meanwhile, would not attempt another presidential bid—university or otherwise—until a short-lived campaign in 2000. He spent his part of senior year at Ohio State planning a student government watchdog group, then abandoning the plans.
“[I’m] realizing that nobody really cares about USG [undergraduate student government],” the man who now trails Donald Trump by more than 20 points told the Lantern. “And in the face of mass apathy, we’ve all become apathetic ourselves.”