GREENLAND, N.H. — Moments after Governor John Kasich of Ohio announced his bid for president Tuesday in his home state, he jetted to New Hampshire, the place where he believes his campaign will take off.
He’s not the only one with that idea.
As polls show Kasich at the bottom of a field of 16 GOP presidential candidates, he’s mapped his path to the nomination through the Granite State’s first-in-the-nation primary. But so have six other GOP hopefuls: former Florida governor Jeb Bush, US Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, New York businessman Donald Trump, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, former New York governor George Pataki, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
After his second town hall meeting in the state on Wednesday, Kasich acknowledged the lane to be the “New Hampshire candidate” is crowded, but he said his personality and decades of experience in Congress and executive office make him stand out.
“And look, sometimes in life you just have to take a chance,” he said.
When Kasich ends this three-day trip and five town hall meetings in New Hampshire, he will have spent 12 days in the state since the last presidential election. During the same time period, he’s spent one day campaigning in Iowa.
Iowa’s GOP caucuses traditionally attract a more conservative crowd than the New Hampshire primary. Kasich’s support for Common Core educational standards, openness to a pathway for citizenship for illegal immigrants, and expansion of Medicaid in his state are not popular among these likely Republican caucus-goers.
“The reason he is spending more time in New Hampshire is that the Iowa caucuses are strange, and even the people in Iowa will tell you that,” said former New Hampshire US Senator John E. Sununu, a top Kasich advisor. “The New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries have proven themselves.”
In the last two presidential elections, the winners of the Iowa caucuses have failed to win the GOP nomination. However, the winners of the New Hampshire primary — US Senator John McCain in 2008 and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in 2012 — have gone on to capture the GOP nod in their respective elections. That’s in part what makes New Hampshire a popular destination for Republicans seeking the White House in 2016.
But University of Cincinnati professor David Niven said part of Kasich’s problem is that he is a “lite version” of other candidates running hard in New Hampshire.
“He thinks of himself as a straight-shooter, truth-teller type, but he’s Chris Christie without the biting New Jersey flair. He’s Lindsay Graham without the humor,” Niven said. “He presents himself as having a gold-plated resume, but he’s Jeb Bush without the universal name recognition. He suffers from no shortage of self regard, but no one can compete with Donald Trump on that score.”
On the second day of his official campaign, Kasich held a town hall for a few hundred people at a country club, working the crowd the best way he could. He described how he, at 18 years old, had the audacity to request and receive an Oval Office meeting with president Richard Nixon. He offered a hug and kind words to a care-giver of an Alzheimer’s patient. When he didn’t have an answer, he admitted it.
When a planted questioner asked about climate change, he acknowledged her colleague recording it all on his iPhone. He looked straight into the camera to give his answer: He didn’t know if climate change was real.
When Maria Lemieux identified herself before her question, Kasich asked if she was related to Mario Lemieux, the former hockey player.
“He’s my brother,” Lemieux said.
“Really?” asked Kasich.
“No,” she responded.
“Oh, you should have kept me going on that!” Kasich said, with his face reddening with laughter.
In addition to the crowd, Kasich was trying to woo New Hampshire Republican elite like former House speaker Doug Scamman. A Mitt Romney backer in 2012, Scamman supports abortion rights and led the state Legislature as a moderate Republican.
Scamman said he has spoken with Kasich about four times now. He introduced Kasich at the town hall in Greenland and said he respects Kasich’s record, but he has a number of candidates he is considering.
The same goes for Ruth Griffin, the longtime former state executive councilor, for whom Kasich attended a 90th birthday party two weeks ago. Griffin, a former state cochairwoman for George W. Bush in 2000, said she likes Kasich and Pataki.
Attending birthday parties and scrapping it out in town hall meetings might be how Kasich will have to win his way to the top tier, according to Saint Anselm College professor Chris Galdieri.
“Normally, I’d say a candidate like Kasich would look to make his mark in the debates, but he’s unlikely to make the cut for the first one, even though he’s the popular sitting governor of an important swing state,” said Galdieri.
Indeed, Kasich most likely won’t make the cut for the first debate on Aug. 6 in his home state. Fox News has stipulated only the top 10 candidates, according to a handful of recent national polls, will be on stage in Cleveland.
Despite his tough path ahead, former state representative Rogers Johnson, a Kasich backer, said his candidate is unique.
“Every other candidate trying this may wow a crowd better or be funnier, but no one else can pair what they say to Kasich’s record,” Johnson said. “That is the difference.”
James Pindell can be reached at James.Pindell@globe.com.