(Bloomberg Politics) — Even before he managed to snag a spot in Thursday’s Republican presidential debate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has argued that he’s the person best suited to win his home state in the general election. Based on how his state has responded to his moderate stances on issues like Medicaid, he may have a point, and the debate in his home state may help heighten that contrast.
Over the years, the governor has developed a reputation as a moderate (or a RINO, as conservative critics have labeled him) for his willingness to work with Democrats on immigration reform, his support of Common Core (he’s called conservative opposition to the national education standards “hysteria”), and, most controversially, his state’s acceptance of the Obamacare Medicaid expansion. Kasich’s presence at Thursday’s debate in Cleveland serves as a reminder that the GOP’s best chance for winning the bellwether state might be found in the moderate stances candidates tend to take during the general election, and Kasich has taken his share.
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When the Republican legislature declined to accept the Medicaid expansion, Kasich lobbied the state’s Controlling Board, a panel made up of six lawmakers and an administration official. By November 2014, 450,000 newly eligible Ohio residents enrolled in the government-run program.
Kasich has defended the expansion as a moral responsibility, once arguing that when he dies and goes to heaven St. Peter wouldn’t ask him about what he did to keep government small, but about what he did to help the poor.
Republicans have been critical of Kasich, and other governors who supported the expansion. Fellow governor and presidential candidate Bobby Jindal, of Louisiana, accused Kasich of hiding behind his faith. Governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Rick Perry of Texas, and Jindal all rejected the expansion. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was also opposed to the expansion in Florida. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is the only other candidate who will be on stage who expanded Medicaid—he recently defended the decision as being “what was best for the state of New Jersey.” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul criticized Christie’s decision, calling it “very expensive and not fiscally conservative.”