Ohio Gov. John Kasich strives to distinguish himself from 15 rivals

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from MSNBC,

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is set to announce his run for president on Tuesday morning, will be one of 16 Republicans running for the nation’s highest office. But the message he’s adding stands out from the pack.

“Just read Matthew 25. Did you feed the hungry? Did you clothe the naked?” Kasich said in January. “If we’re doing things like that, to me that is conservatism.”

Kasich runs the state that all but decides the outcome of the general election. He has a budget-cutting, fiscally conservative past, and over the last year he’s toured the country promoting a balanced budget amendment. But in early Republican nominating states, Kasich’s been preaching a message of social welfare rooted in faith that contrasts with many of the go-it-alone pitches coming from other GOP candidates.

“Economic growth is not an end unto itself. It’s a means to an end, where everybody gets lifted. If you’re drug addicted, mentally ill, working poor, developmentally disabled, we want everybody to have a place — if you’re a member of the minority community. Is that an odd Republican position? No, I think it was the way that Reagan looked at things,” Kasich told CNBC in an interview earlier this month.

Kasich’s policy positions don’t line up with most of the rest of the field, either. He’s open to a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, long held an “F” rating from the National Rifle Association because of his vote for the assault weapons ban in the 1990s, and recently fought with a Republican legislature to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

“Sometimes, as a leader, you have to walk a lonely road,” Kasich told reporters in July.

The whole package could make for a tough sell with the conservative activists who often play a key role in early nominating contests — particularly in Iowa. And despite his perch as a swing state governor, Kasich is likely to struggle to raise money, earn media coverage and break into the top tier of Republican candidates.

If Kasich does break through, it’s likely to be in New Hampshire, his advisers say. Kasich has hired longtime GOP strategist John Weaver, who was an early adviser to John McCain during the 2008 cycle, to oversee his campaign; ad man Fred Davis will work for the outside groups supporting Kasich’s bid.

“I didn’t think I was going to be back up here again because, frankly, I thought Jeb was just going to suck all the air out of the room, and it just hasn’t happened,” Kasich told New Hampshire voters in June.

The frankness — unusual for a candidate, if not necessarily for his or her advisers — earned him some blowback. Just a day or two later, as he held press conferences and conducted a series of interviews with reporters at a confab hosted by Mitt Romney in Park City, Utah, Kasich was pointedly careful. He demurred when asked about the Republicans already crowding the field, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

“The minute I say something about him, then it’s like I’m going after him,” Kasich told Bloomberg News. “How am I doing on this discipline?”

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