I’ve long thought that John Kasich was a New Hampshire kind of guy — and now the Granite State seems to be deciding the same.
Since the turn of the year, Kasich has generated real traction here with his folksy, optimistic, forward-looking approach. And you can see it now in the interest voters are showing in a candidate whose brand of politics is unlike anything his Republican rivals are offering.
The tonal difference that separates Kasich from his more rancorous, to-the-ramparts Republican rivals was on display in the dueling speeches he and Marco Rubio gave to the New Hampshire House of Representatives on Wednesday morning.
Speaking in a language legislators appreciate, he talked of the way he would push power and funding away from Washington and back to the states. He was upbeat, low-key, and funny, telling stories about his own days as a young legislator, including one about a senior Republican who was annoyed when he failed to offer a second for an amendment he didn’t understand.
“Young man, you’d better learn to fly by the seat of your pants,” the older legislator scolded.
“And I’ve been doing that ever since,” Kasich joked.
He also stressed the accomplishments that can come when elected officials think of themselves as Americans first and Republicans and Democrats second.
Rubio, by comparison, was serious, formal, and tedious.
This wasn’t the place to recount all of President Obama’s failings, Rubio averred. That place, apparently, is Rubio’s town meetings, where the Florida senator speaks in ridiculously dire terms about the way he believes the Obama administration is undermining the Constitution. In his speech to the legislature, Rubio confined himself to the comparatively mild assertion that Obama wants to control “our economy, our health care,” and everything else “down to the weather.”
You could also discern the difference at a midday town hall meeting in Concord, where Kasich told the audience he was tired of hearing his Republican rivals spend so much time castigating Obama and declared that it’s time to look forward. The problems this country faces really aren’t that difficult to fix, he added; they can all be remedied if leaders are willing to work together in bipartisan fashion. His own political gift, he said, sounding a bit like presidential-power theorist Richard Neustadt, was an ability “to get people to do things they don’t want to do but know they should.“
In an interview on his campaign bus, I asked Kasich why, given the succession of major-party nominees who have pledged but failed to end the discord and bring bipartisanship to Washington, voters should believe he can do it? Because he had demonstrated the ability to reach across the aisle and achieve results both in Congress and as governor of Ohio, Kasich replied.
“We balanced the budget, fixed welfare,” he said. “I did it with Democrats, Republicans. It is something I have been able to do all my lifetime.”
That may be overly optimistic as far as governing in today’s toxic Washington is concerned.
But his collegial, reasonable, results-focused approach is finding a real audience in New Hampshire. Several recent Granite State polls show him in or jousting for second place behind Donald Trump. If, in the next two weeks, Kasich can clearly establish himself as the most viable Republican-mainstream alternative to Trump’s comedy-club candidacy and Ted Cruz’s far-right fulminations, then he’ll have a Granite State ticket to ride.
Scot Lehigh is a Globe columnist. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.