CONCORD, N.H. – Ohio Governor John Kasich expressed surprise Sunday afternoon at the turnout of curious voters still shopping for a presidential candidate to support, just hours before the first votes are cast in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary.
“I can’t believe you’re all here,” Kasich told a crowd of more than 400 people who packed inside Concord High School. “It’s just little old me, folks.”
Campaign workers set out seats for 300 people, but locals and people traveling from as far as New York and Maryland filled in the edges of a school cafeteria.
Kasich seemed to be enjoying a slight uptick in voter interest hours after US Senator Marco Rubio’s shaky performance in Sunday night’s debate. Kasich is vying for a strong showing in New Hampshire, a state where voters are notorious for picking a candidate at the last minute.
At his 102nd town-hall forum here on Sunday, Kasich continued to tout his performance as a job creator as Ohio governor and, before that, the congressman who marshaled the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.
“If you have common-sense regulation and you manage the budget, you will have a robust economy with job growth,” Kasich said. Rick Cantu, 62, of Barrington, N.H., said Kasich was among the last candidates he planned to see in person before casting his ballot in the Republican primary on Tuesday.
“He had a great debate last night,” Cantu said of Kasich. “There are a lot of people here today. I think folks who heard him yesterday have said, ‘Geez, we need to see this guy.’ People I have talked to are not going for one particular guy.”
Cantu said that Kasich’s debate performance on Sunday night could make a difference for him on primary day, especially since many people he has met during campaign events do not seem fully committed yet to a candidate.
A retired wastewater superintendent for the city of Manchester, Cantu said he was an early Rand Paul supporter, has been leaning toward Rubio lately, but might change his mind again before he steps into the voting booth on Tuesday.
“I have actually seen most of the candidates,” Cantu said. He plans on hitting campaign events on Monday for the two contenders he has not yet seen in person, former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and former Florida governor Jeb Bush, before he makes his final decision.
Cantu said businessman Donald Trump, the frontrunner, has come off as “bombastic.” which is leading people like him to shop around, and see who else is running.
Kasich did not take aim at any particular competitor within the Republican field, but made a suggestion about what to do with attack ads before the Super Bowl was to begin on Sunday night.
“Why doesn’t everybody take down their negative ads, and we can tell people what we’re about?” he asked.
One woman who said she was still “shopping” for a candidate asked whether Kasich could change his support for defunding Planned Parenthood, noting the organization also provides important health care for women.
“You’re not going to get a Republican Congress to do that,” Kasich said. “We need to make sure we have robust funding for women’s health.” Kasich said in his home state of Ohio, $40 million more was dedicated women’s health care in the latest state budget.
Whether Kasich can capitalize on renewed last-minute interest and undecided voters remains an open question.
Jeffrey Phillips, 53, of Concord, came to Sunday’s town hall because he is leaning toward supporting Kasich.
“I am an independent, but he is the most moderate and sensible,” said Phillips, an assistant professor of business administration at Colby-Sawyer College in New London, N.H.
Phillips said that Sunday’s night debate performance could be a game changer as voters decide whom to support. “I think all three governors did really well last night,” Phillips said, referring to Kasich, Bush and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Kasich showed during the debate that “he could do the job” as president, Phillips said.
As for Kasich’s chances during Tuesday’s primary, Phillips said, “I think he could maybe pull off second place. I think there are a lot of people who are undecided and worried about Trump.”