Republican presidential candidate John Kasich packed the Villanova Room in the Connelly Center at Villanova University on Wednesday afternoon, drawing big crowds one day after his convincing primary victory in his home state of Ohio.
A long line made up mostly of students snaked outside the building and down the sidewalk at 10:15 a.m. The event was scheduled to start at noon with doors opening at 11 a.m. The room appeared to hold more than the 600 expected attendees, with hoards of onlookers standing in each crevice of the room.
“At first we were actually worried if we would get enough people,” Villanova’s student body president Kyle Lubiejewski said. “I know Kasich said he wanted somewhere around 400.” Lubiejewski added that the cinema next-door to the Villanova Room was also filled, where the event was being simulcast.
There was hardly enough room for the dozens of media members who staked out any space they could to set up their cameras and laptops.
Kasich strolled to the stage at the center of the room to “Shut Up And Dance,” as attendees released thunderous applause. Kasich, who was born in McKees Rock, Pa., just outside of Pittsburgh, was joined by Pennsylvania state politicos to begin the event, such as former congressman Bob Walker and former senator Earl Baker. Walker introduced Kasich, dubbing him “the next president of the United States.”
Immediately after grabbing the mic, Kasich warmed the crowd up to him with one line. “I have a feeling that when March Madness ends, Villanova may be the National Champion.”
He then told a story about going to the White House when he was 18 years old to meet the president after they had exchanged letters. Upon his arrival in Washington, Kasich said he was able to sit down with him for 20 minutes. “The bad news is I was a congressman for 18 years, and if you add up all the time I spent in the Oval Office over those 18 years, I peaked out at the age of 18,” Kasich said, drawing laughs from the audience. “I should have come to Villanova.”
Kasich then turned to his stump speech — sharing his views on his vision for America and the American people. “I don’t mean this as some political gibberish here, you were made to do something only you can do, by The Creator,” he said.
Kasich said that since he is running for president, he has a lot of things to figure out, like how to make sure there’s a better chance that someone will see a social security check than a UFO. He believes, though, that the solutions to our country’s problems come from the people, not “from a bunch of politicians,” and he related that hierarchy to that of Villanova.
“This is a place with incredible spirit,” Kasich said. “The strength of this school rests in the students … The strength of our country rests in us. And it rests in our ability to believe that we — we, you and me — can change the world for the better.”
Before moving on, though, Kasich added that while we are fighting for the future of this country, “we are not going to get there by bashing one another.” Perhaps his words were a not-so-subtle dig at Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, who extended his delegate lead with wins in Florida, North Carolina, and Illinois on Tuesday.
Only three Republican candidates remain in the race following Marco Rubio‘s exit last night. Still, it seems Kasich is not ready to abandon his positive campaign.
When taking questions, Kasich addressed his status as the lone “establishment” candidate remaining on the Republican side, President Obama‘s Supreme Court nomination, and his thoughts on American involvement in defeating ISIS.
Ostensibly the most challenging of the questions, about fighting the Islamic State, came from an unlikely audience member — an 11-year-old boy named Jack.
“In terms of your strategy for defeating ISIS, to what extent will American personnel be involved?” he asked. The crowd understandably whooped and cheered at the kid’s brashness. Kasich didn’t sugar-coat his response.
“We’re going to have to be in the air,” Kasich responded. “And then we’re going to have to be on the ground. Americans are going to have to be there, and you know why? Because no one else is going to do this.”
The Pennsylvania primary is not until April 26th, and whether Kasich’s name will even appear on the ballot has been in question. (Rubio has reportedly just abandoned his challenge to Kasich’s ballot status). However, Kasich is not slowing down his campaign.
Lubijewski told Philly Mag that after Villanova’s student government reached out to Kasich’s team last week looking to secure a date in April, Kasich’s team was intent on putting together an event much sooner. Kasich, Lubiejewski said, fit the bill for a candidate who would be well received at Villanova.
“He’s not as boisterous, I guess we could say, as a lot of other candidates on both the Republican and Democratic side,” Lubiejewski said. “His views on abortion, healthcare … and just from his speech today, the general importance of every life, I think that aligns with the community feel at Villanova.”
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