By Tory Newmyer
July 18, 2015

Saturday Morning Post: The Weekly View from Washington

An overstuffed Republican presidential field will need to make room for one more this week when John Kasich makes his official entry into the race. The Ohio governor will announce in a Tuesday speech at his alma mater, Ohio State University. Kasich is polling so modestly he’s on course to suffer the indignity of failing to qualify for the first GOP debate, coming Aug. 6 — in Cleveland, no less. But the national media has so far spotted him credit disproportionate to his poll standing. That owes to a fascination with Kasich’s renegade persona, which starts with his lunchbucket gruffness. It extends to his habit of goring new Republican orthodoxies. Kasich famously embraced Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, reasoning he’s obligated to look out for the vulnerable population in line for relief.

Much less understood, however, is the depth of his ideological alignment with Obama when it comes to government’s role in stoking economic growth. Over two terms in office, Kasich has pursued a strategy of aggressive intervention in the market, tapping public funds to support a handpicked roster of industries that already claimed a foothold in the state (think: autos, appliances, and heavy machinery). The idea has been to actively nudge along the reshoring trend breathing new life into American manufacturing, long a backbone of the Buckeye State’s economy. Obama’s manufacturing strategy shares the predicate, but there’s more: Both have focused on developing manufacturing hubs, luring entire supply chains around a major production facility, so savings from streamlined logistics more than make up for pricier American labor. Kasich has faced some blowback for the effort. But the criticism has focused mostly on the strong-arm approach of his economic development agency, which he partially privatized, rather than the philosophy behind it. That may be because it’s working. Unemployment in the state stands at 5.2%, down from 11% when Kasich took office. Brent Campbell, a Moody’s Analytics economist who covers the state, says a manufacturing renaissance, centered on autos and auto parts, is driving Ohio’s rebound — along with an assist from healthcare, especially the hub anchored by the Cleveland Clinic.

It’s doubtful it would have been possible at all without Obama’s auto industry bailout, which Kasich has drawn the line at endorsing. How the maverick governor frames the case for Ohio’s turnaround can and should galvanize a debate about economic stewardship in the contest he’s set to join.

Tory Newmyer
@torynewmyer
tory_newmyer@fortune.com

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