'Anti-Trump candidate' woos voters with positive vibe

In the crucial New Hampshire poll, Republican candidate John Kasich hopes to appeal to reason rather than radicalism.

    'Anti-Trump candidate' woos voters with positive vibe
    US Republican presidential candidate John Kasich speaks to voters during a campaign rally in New Hampshire [Mike Segar/Reuters]

    In a packed cafeteria at Concord High School in New Hampshire, a woman takes the microphone and tells Republican presidential candidate John Kasich that she wants to see more positivity in the US election campaign.

    More than any other line, that one gets enthusiastic, sustained applause at this event.

    This is Kasich's theme and he runs with it.

    "Let's just take down the negative ads," the current governor of Ohio says to murmurs of approval from the audience. "Just tell people what we're for."

    Kasich is in the state capital of Concord, campaigning for votes as people in this small northeastern state get set to go to the polls on Tuesday in the first of many primaries across the country to pick a presidential nominee.

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    Kasich finished at the bottom of the pack in the Iowa caucus on February 1. He needs to do well in Tuesday's vote or this could be the end of the road for him.

    For many candidates, the easiest thing would be to pick up the tone and style of businessman and former reality-TV star Donald Trump, who is way ahead of Kasich in New Hampshire. The billionaire's outsider approach to issues such as immigration and foreign policy have made him a GOP star.

    But Kasich simply won't go there - and luckily for him, neither will many voters.

    "I don't like him [Trump]," says Katrina Misley, 30, a registered Republican from Concord, attending her first campaign event of 2016. "He's rude and I don't think he's sincere in anything that he says. I think he's just a big show." She says she is torn between Kasich and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

    Aura of earnestness

    In New Hampshire, 40 percent of the voters are independents, which means they do not identify with either major party. The Kasich campaign is trying to woo them, hoping an appeal to reason rather than radicalism will help to propel him to the nomination.

    Unlike the surreal, circus-like atmosphere of many Trump rallies, this town hall at the high school has an aura of earnestness.

    READ MORE: New Hampshire, the little state with the big voice

    With the exception of the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" introduction song, it is low-key and the crowd attentive. People want to learn rather than be entertained. That's just what the campaign is banking on.

    "We cannot go anywhere where we don't hear at least one or two people come up and say you're the voice of reason," says Doug Price, a campaign adviser who has worked on Kasich political campaigns since 1982.

    "You can't take your eye off the ball, which is the primaries, where you got to survive the primaries. But then, you've to appeal to a broader electorate."

    READ MORE: Republican hopefuls' fate in the balance

    That long-game approach, the rejection of bombast and easy soundbites, which could could work against a candidate in the general election against the Democratic Party, was on full display on Saturday night during the GOP debate in Manchester when Kasich went against the anti-immigrant wave sweeping the Republican party.

    Rather than appropriate or even mimic the popular Trump idea to kick out every "illegal immigrant", Kasich reminded everyone on stage - and the millions watching at home - what was at stake.

    "I couldn't even imagine how we would even begin to think about taking a mom or a dad out of a house when they have not committed a crime since they've been here, leaving their children in the house," Kasich said. "I mean, those are not, in my opinion, the kind of values that we believe in."

    Taylor Allan, 31, was pleased to hear that.

    "Having a moderate approach to things is going to get more stuff done," he says, holding his four-month-old daughter Isabelle, during the Kasich event.

    "If Trump gets nominated and it goes to the general election, it's going to be 'I like Trump or I hate Trump'. And if you have a volatile candidate, it's going to be harder to swing people."

    That volatility reared its ugly head on Monday night at a rally in Manchester when Trump uttered a vulgar term to refer to GOP opponent Ted Cruz. An audience member called the Texas Senator, "a pussy", which Trump repeated aloud.

    Early on Tuesday, Kasich got his first taste of victory. Nine voters in Dixville, near the Canadian border, voted for him to the GOP nominee over Trump.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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