His second place in New Hampshire ahead of his better known rivals Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio suddenly makes John Kasich the Republican establishment’s top contender. But Kasich has always had a game plan.
strategy was clear from the day he announced his intention to run for the presidency last summer: In a huge Republican field filled with fringe candidates veering to the far right, stake out a position as the moderate choice.
And if there is a Republican candidate who might be able to claim the mantle of mainstream conservatism, it probably is Kasich. As the governor of Ohio, a classic battleground state contested equally by Democrats and Republicans, he is experienced in moderate politics.
Having said that all that, Kasich is a staunch conservative. As an 18-year old college student he wrote a gloating letter to then-President Richard Nixon asking for a White House visit. An impressed Nixon responded with an invitation to the Oval Office. The unlikely pair met in the White House on December 22, 1970.
But while Kasich is a solid Republican he is not an unpredictable radical like Donald Trump or a conservative ideologue like Ted Cruz. Instead, throughout his long political career, he has always charted a moderate conservative course.
Kasich first made a name for himself as a Congressman for Ohio in 1997 when he was instrumental in balancing the federal budget for the first time in decades. In 2001, after nearly two decades in Congress, he was hired as an executive by Lehman Brothers, the now-disgraced investment bank, where he worked until it crashed in 2008.
The latter episode is an aspect of his professional biography that Kasich would rather not speak about, but which obviously has been highlighted by rivals such as Donald Trump. After Lehman's demise Kasich returned to political life as governor of Ohio in 2011. He was re-elected two years ago.
For voters looking for a moderate Republican candidate Kasich checks all the boxes. The grandson of Czech and Croatian immigrants believes climate change is real and wants to offer illegal immigrants a perspective in the US. Kasich personally opposes gay marriage, but asked his party "to move on" and respect the Supreme Court's ruling to legalize it.
Raised as a devout Catholic, Kasich now says he finds God anywhere and attends a conservative Anglican church. He even cited his faith as a reason to enroll Ohio in President Obama's health care reform program, loathed by Republicans.
In his campaign, Kasich tries to take the high road and avoid name calling. But he has repeatedly made it clear what he thinks of his rivals' more extremist positions, for instance, by calling Donald Trump's plan to deport millions of people "not an adult argument."
With his strong finish in New Hampshire, Kasich now has the momentum to try to rally the Republican establishment and disenchanted conservatives around his campaign. But whether or not he can ultimately defeat Rubio and Bush to become the party's centrist alternative, he has already beaten his previous record: in 2000, Kasich quickly pulled the plug on his campaign for the Republican nomination before it even officially kicked off.