Chris Christie spoke of an America that is “weaker” abroad, and how the leadership he has displayed as governor of New Jersey could change that.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker read from a familiar script for GOP presidential hopefuls, calling for more U.S. troops and more consequences for adversaries who “mess” with this country.
And then there was Gov. John Kasich, who used the entirety of his speech to about 300 mostly wealthy, Jewish GOP donors at the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas to talk about Ohio.
Kasich delivered the luncheon speech Saturday for a three-day event in Las Vegas that some observers say served as a possible precursor to the 2016 Republican presidential primary race.
The conference was at the Venetian resort and casino, owned by GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, and most of the speakers are considered at some level to be possible 2016 contenders. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush spoke on Thursday night at a private dinner, and former Vice President Dick Cheney addressed the coalition last night.
If, as some had speculated, the speakers were here jockeying for Adelson’s support for a hypothetical presidential campaign, Kasich’s tack was far different from the others’.
Kasich, who is up for re-election this year against likely Democratic nominee Ed FitzGerald, delivered a speech devoid of foreign policy and identical in concept to dozens he has given throughout Ohio for the past few months.
The governor spoke of balancing budgets and creating jobs. He talked about expanding Medicaid without mentioning the words Medicaid or expansion, and he touched on topics that generally draw attention but rarely elicit applause, such as reforming education, battling prescription-drug abuse and “helping people in the shadows.”
“I think he came here to tell people who he is,” said Larry Levine of Blacklick in eastern Franklin County, who was at the conference and is president of Art Brands. “He’s been very consistent with that. He doesn’t care what anyone else thinks he should say; he’s going to do what he thinks is right.”
Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary for President George W. Bush, said of Kasich that “there was a joy in the room listening to that speech. It was such a powerful, emotional speech; he’s connecting with people’s struggles.”
Kasich opened with thoughts on a Holocaust memorial being installed on the Ohio Statehouse grounds. Perhaps Kasich’s only deviation from his usual stump speech was his repeated references to Adelson. At times, Kasich sounded as if he were speaking only to Adelson, despite a crowd of hundreds and a national media presence at the Venetian.
Adelson, who contributed about $11,400 to the Republican Governors Association’s Ohio fund for Kasich in 2010, sat next to Kasich at lunch before his speech. Kasich’s aides have said for weeks that the goal of this trip was a big campaign cash haul for 2014, but Adelson and his wife also gave $93 million to GOP-leaning causes in 2012.
“In Ohio, we’re no longer a flyover, Sheldon,” said Kasich, who also met privately with Adelson. “We do want you to come. We want you to invest. We want you to get to know us. Because Ohio really is the heart of it all.”
Lauren Hitt, a spokeswoman for FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive, said, “Gov. Kasich made clear today that his focus is not on helping Ohio’s middle class, by publicly courting a billionaire and notorious presidential fundraiser in Las Vegas.”
Christie caused a small stir during an otherwise-well-received speech when he made a reference to “occupied territories” as he spoke of his 2012 visit to Israel. Some in the room said that language was insensitive to those who support the sovereignty of Israel. Levine said the complaints were “overblown.”
By Joe Vardon - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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