For greedy Wall St., a judgment comes later: Gov. Kasich

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Gov. Kasich defends his fiscal record
Gov. Kasich defends his fiscal record

WESTERVILLE, OHIO—As John Kasich will be the first to tell you, he brings an impressively-rounded resume to the 2016 Republican presidential race.

He chaired the House Budget Committee and helped negotiate the first balanced-budget deal in a generation with Bill Clinton's White House. He hosted a TV show for Fox News. He worked as a financial executive for Lehman Brothers before its 2008 collapse.

"I traveled all over the country, and I was really involved in trying to help companies to be more successful," he said. "It was a fantastic experience to see the way CEOs think, the way the boards of directors work. "

But it also showed him a less-flattering side of modern capitalism. "There is an element of greed on Wall Street that is not good," he said. "There are some people there who would advise a company to do something that wasn't in their best interest, Because if a company does something, that banker would get paid. When the greed factor goes high, then I think mistakes get made."

Though no Wall Street bankers went to jail as a result of the financial crisis, the deeply-religious governor warned of a different sort of punishment: "Just because you do something that's greedy that can end up in failure doesn't mean you committed a crime. But you know what? There's a judgment that comes later, about how many people get hurt. And frankly, that's a pretty tough judgment in my opinion."

Kasich also has presidential campaign experience from a brief bid for the 2000 Republican nomination. Last year he was overwhelmingly re-elected to a second term as governor of Ohio—among the most important swing states in the country.

None of this makes Kasich, still exuberant at age 63, a favorite in the Republican race. His formal entry into the race next week places him well behind the likes of Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. With a brashness verging on eccentricity, Kasich doesn't always come across as central casting's idea of a president.

Republican presidential candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Al Drago | CQ Roll Call | Getty Images

Even more problematic, Kasich has refused to follow Republican rivals in relentlessly resisting all aspects of President Barack Obama's new health care law. He pushed Ohio to adopt the Obamacare Medicaid expansion that many conservatives regard as an unaffordable expansion of government entitlement programs. He embraced the Common Core educational standards and has refused to reverse course.

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"Why would I back off?" he asked cheerfully in an interview here at the Monte Carlo Italian Kitchen, the casual restaurant where his Bible study group meets. As for the Medicaid expansion, he said treating mentally ill and drug-addicted Ohioans is cheaper for taxpayers than keeping them in prison.

He won't say whether he will run on a pledge to oppose all tax increases, as some of his opponents are doing. His approach carries echoes of the tone struck by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who currently leads New Hampshire polls. But it lacks the cachet with conservatives enjoyed by tough-talking Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who leads in Iowa.

"Balanced budgets, cut taxes by more than anybody in the country—I have a history of doing that," he explained. "But I also think we have to reach out to people who live in the shadows. I don't know that everybody gets it."

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"When i look at the Old and the New Testament, there's one thing that is clear in there," he added. "And that is, it does depend on how we help people who are downtrodden, down on their luck, the widowed, the poor."

Kasich's observation offends some conservatives who believe it impugns the character of those who disagree with him. At the same time, it holds the potential to appeal to moderate swing voters should Kasich be able to win the nomination or land a place on the Republican ticket as the vice presidential candidate.