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March 16, 2016

Accessible Kasich impresses students at Villanova

Ohio governor is 'by far the most unifying candidate,' one student says

John Kasich may face a long and difficult road to the Republican nomination for president, but students at Villanova University say he is the candidate most suited to unify the party and the nation. 

A day after a big primary win in his home state, the Ohio governor hosted a town hall event Wednesday at the Catholic college on the Main Line. 

Some 600 people, mostly students, crammed into the Connelly Center to hear Kasich. The crowd included a contingent of Kasich supporters, but many seemingly came in search of an alternative to frontrunner Donald Trump and uber-conservative Ted Cruz.

"I think he's an excellent face for that moderate brand of conservatism, almost resetting it to its roots. He's by far the most unifying candidate. He's non-judgmental and very caring." – Varun Menon

Pennsylvania does not hold its primary for another six weeks. But the event offered the rejuvenated candidate an opportunity to sway voters in a state that could grow more important as the battle to win the Republican presidential nomination continues.

Perhaps tellingly, the first question Kasich fielded came from a Villanova student whose favored candidate, Marco Rubio, withdrew from the race on Tuesday. The student wanted to know whether the GOP could offer a fiscally conservative candidate who holds moderate views on social issues.

For many Republicans, Kasich might be that guy. But he might need a brokered convention to win the party's nomination.

"His win in Ohio makes it much harder (for Trump) to capture the nomination before the convention," said Varun Menon, one of several Kasich supporters who traveled from the University of Pennsylvania. "I think we should nominate a candidate that the majority of us, even if we didn't support him initially, should be able to rally around."

Related story: Kasich hosts town hall with students at Villanova University

Menon, a Penn senior from Martinsburg, West Virginia, said he is impressed by Kasich's record in Congress, where he played an important role in balancing the federal budget, and in Ohio, where he was re-elected overwhelmingly in 2014. He praised Kasich for his ability to build consensus among people with differing views.

"I think he's an excellent face for that moderate brand of conservatism, almost resetting it to its roots," Menon said. "He's by far the most unifying candidate. He's non-judgmental and very caring."

For much of the presidential race, Kasich has been an afterthought. He fared well in New Hampshire, finishing second to Trump, but has not been competitive in many other states. Winning Ohio was critical to his campaign. And as Kasich has noted on the campaign trail, no Republican has been elected president without taking Ohio.

Fresh off his victory, Kasich brought his message to Villanova, promising fiscal responsibility and offering a conservative approach to the economy and an aggressive strategy against ISIS.

"I liked what he had to say," said Pete Coyle, a Villanova junior from Wilmington, Del. "I'm undecided at the moment but I liked his ideas and I'll definitely continue to follow him."

Coyle said he is a registered Democrat but could be swayed depending on the Republican candidate. Kasich, he said, is the Republican "frontrunner, in my mind." With that, Coyle rushed off to snap a photo as Kasich exited the building.

Elected Ohio's governor in 2010, Kasich pushed a Medicaid expansion through the Republican-controlled legislature. But he also signed a law restricting collective bargaining for public employees, which Ohio voters repealed eight months later.

Kasich told the crowd he is as idealistic as when he was a student at Ohio State University. But he said he places people around him who are willing to tell him when he is wrong. And he pledged to listen.

"I like his mantra of bringing more bipartisanship," said Jennie Sortino of Gilbertsville, Montgomery County. "I'm hoping he'll stay true to that if he was elected."

Sortino, a registered Democrat, brought her 17-year-old daughter, Olivia, to the town hall so they could be better informed for the general election. She said she appreciated the forthrightness and charisma that Kasich displayed and his message that everyone has the ability to bring change.

"On a more personal level, I like how he's able to communicate individuality on each person," Sortino said. "I'd like to do some more research on the things he voted for and pushed through."

Kasich appeared at Villanova on the invitation of the university's student government, accepting within a week of receiving the request, student body Vice President Pat Long said. The student body's officers left impressed.

"Kasich will talk to you,'" said President Kyle Lubiejewski, a senior from Valley Forge. "There are a lot of components that go into who you want to vote for as president, but that's right up there for me."