Kasich’s roots in McKees Rocks are a familiar theme in campaign
February 9, 2016 12:38 AM
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Republican presidential candidate and Ohio Gov. John Kasich campaigns at the Searles School and Chapel in Windham, N.H. Candidates were in a last push for votes ahead of the first-in-the-nation primary today.
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Vietnam veteran David AuCoin, right, puts his arm around Republican presidential candidate and Ohio Gov. John Kasich as he asks the candidate a question during a town hall Monday in Plaistow, N.H. Candidates were in a last push for votes ahead of the first-in-the-nation primary today.
By Joe Smydo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Although John Kasich left McKees Rocks at 18, the Ohio governor and Republican presidential candidate often returns to his old stomping grounds. Rhetorically, at least.
References to McKees Rocks have peppered Mr. Kasich’s talks, ads and writings since before his first gubernatorial run in 2010, and newspaper stories often quote him harking back to his mill town upbringing.
“Kasich has been telling his McKees Rocks story for years,” said a May 2014 story in The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Case in point: A television ad the Kasich presidential campaign debuted in January opens with footage of Island Avenue in McKees Rocks and includes a shot of the former Mother of Sorrows church in Stowe. “John Kasich never gives up,” says the ad, intimating that the candidate inherited his hometown’s steel backbone.
Mr. Kasich, 63, who is hoping for a strong showing in today’s New Hampshire primary and has said he’ll curtail his campaign if he doesn’t get it, has mentioned McKees Rocks even at times one might have expected his mind to be riveted elsewhere.
“I love Cleveland because when I’m in Cleveland, I feel — I feel like I just left McKees Rocks,” he said during his first State of the State address as Ohio governor in March 2011.
The following month, during a stop in Twinsburg, Ohio, Mr. Kasich flirted with political disaster by talking up his Pittsburgh roots before a group of grumbling Cleveland Browns fans.
“Yeah, yeah, well, when you win a Super Bowl, let me know,” The Columbus Dispatch quoted him as saying.
Mr. Kasich attributes his gruff style to his blue-collar roots. Last month, he told The Washington Post, ”You screw with me, you’re screwing with the wrong guy. ... In McKees Rocks, you come in our town, you beat us in football, we’ll break every freakin’ window on your bus. You don’t want to mess with us.”
In endorsing Mr. Kasich, former U.S. Sen. Gordon Humphrey of New Hampshire likened McKees Rocks to Ronald Reagan’s hometown, Dixon, Ill. Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a website of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, included Mr. Kasich and McKees Rocks in a feature last year on candidates who emphasize small-town roots.
His background is a way for Mr. Kasich “to signal, hey, I’m a Republican, but I’m culturally similar to you. I’m not Nelson Rockefeller,” said Kyle Kondik, the site’s managing editor.
Although Mr. Kasich identifies McKees Rocks as his hometown, his family lived at least for a time in Stowe. His parents, John and Anne, were living there when they were killed in 1987 in an accident caused by a drunk driver.
John Kasich had been a letter carrier, and his wife worked at the post office, too. The postmaster was Charles A. ”Chubby” Knoll Sr. “In that era, it was a behemoth of a post office,” said Mr. Knoll’s son, Albert Baker Knoll, a Democratic candidate for state treasurer.
Taris Vrcek, executive director of the McKees Rocks Community Development Corp., said Mr. Kasich’s success is a “great story” for the struggling town but noted that the candidate has reaped dividends trading on his hometown’s reputation.
“I think it’s really helped him build his brand in a lot of ways. I’d like to see that be a two-way street,” said Mr. Vrcek, who is helping to lead McKees Rocks’ turnaround efforts and would like to see Mr. Kasich lend a hand.
Mr. Kasich’s last publicized visit to the area may have been in 1999, when he spoke at Sto-Rox High School.
The irony of his political affiliation isn’t lost on Mr. Kasich, who once said that in his Democratic town, “they used to put roadblocks up to keep the Republicans out.”
Some critics, considering Mr. Kasich overly friendly to business, believe he has strayed too far from his roots. During his 2012 State of the State address, The Blade of Toledo reported, one protester held up a sign that pointed toward McKees Rocks and said, “Go home, Kasich.”
Joe Smydo: jsmydo @post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548. Block News Alliance and staff writer Tracie Mauriello contributed.
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