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John Kasich: Negative Ads A Sign 'We're Expanding' In New Hampshire

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The Republican candidates are also out across New Hampshire today. Their schedules are packed with rallies and town hall meetings. And our colleague, Robert Siegel, is there, too. After a town hall this afternoon in Claremont, he sat down to talk with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who had a lackluster finish in yesterday's Iowa caucuses.

ROBERT SIEGEL, BYLINE: Gov. Kasich, welcome to the program.

JOHN KASICH: Thank you.

SIEGEL: You have a week to go here in New Hampshire, but people today are thinking back on the Iowa caucuses. Eighth-place finish, less than 2 percent. Why shouldn't someone say reasonably you didn't win, place, show or come in anywhere near it?

KASICH: Well, I spent about $10 and just spent, you know, a limited amount of time there, and we were never banking on Iowa. Look, at the end we decided that New Hampshire was a better fit for us, and this is where we've put a lot of our focus, but not all of our focus. We're prepared to move on if we have a good finish here.

SIEGEL: There's a commercial on television targeting you from the American Future Fund. It says John Kasich, he's not even a moderate. He embraced Common Core, he expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. He's a tax hiker, I believe, is in one of these. Is it possible that you, as a pragmatic governor of Ohio, are frankly not conservative enough for the primary GOP electorate this time around?

KASICH: Well, let's think about that. In Ohio, I've cut taxes more than any governor in the country. We're running a $2 billion surplus. We have the lowest number of state employees in 30 years. We've expanded school choice. I don't know who these people are who say this. But of course, that's what politics is. I don't, like, overreact.

SIEGEL: One reason you don't know who they are is that the Supreme Court has said that what they're doing, even without our knowing who they are, is an exercise of free speech.

KASICH: Yeah.

SIEGEL: Do you agree with that or, having gone through a cycle like this, is there something flawed in the way we're funding campaigns?

KASICH: Well, I think we need to have more low-dollar efforts here the country. You know, having a handful of billionaires that can basically, with special interest, they can kind of buy an election is something that bothers me. But look, I have other focuses right now.

SIEGEL: You just told a group if you get smoked in New Hampshire, you're going home. If you do well in New Hampshire, you're moving on.

KASICH: We're moving on.

SIEGEL: What does getting smoked in New Hampshire mean? Not finishing first?

KASICH: No, getting smoked will be something we will determine on the 10th. And smoked just means getting clobbered, finishing at the bottom or, you know - but that's not going to happen here. We've got too good of a ground game, too much effort, too much work, and the polls are indicating we're rising, which is why they're clubbing me over the head to try to stop this momentum.

SIEGEL: You were asked a question about how the U.S. can defeat ISIS, and you mentioned reestablishing the kind of coalition that was put together when Iraq invaded Kuwait. Very broad - Western countries, Muslim, Arab countries, as you said. At the core of that coalition was the U.S. military.

KASICH: Right.

SIEGEL: It took the key fighting role. Is that what you have in mind?

KASICH: Yes, absolutely. We have to have a key fighting role both in the air and on the ground. But we have to invite others to participate with us, and they're going to have to participate with us if we're going to get this done. And I think there's a great opportunity because I think a lot of these countries feel under great pressure and they know ultimately, ISIS turns its efforts towards them.

SIEGEL: But assuming that you do involve other countries from the regions with their armed forces, are you talking about not just very small special forces groups, not just...

KASICH: ...No, I think it wouldn't be just small special forces...

SIEGEL: ...The United States Army...

KASICH: ...Look, I've been - yes. And I've been, you know, involved in military reform for long enough to know that it is not my job to draw up the battle plan. It's my job to get the military experts to draw up a couple scenarios for me where I would then choose. That's the way it works. And when people who run for president start trying to tell you what the troop level ought to be, you better find out what they know about stuff.

SIEGEL: But there's a difference arguing about how many divisions should be there...

KASICH: ...It would be an overwhelming force. I'm not talking about just some special forces. It has to be an overwhelming force, and we have to be a leader in this.

SIEGEL: Go back into Iraq.

KASICH: Yeah, absolutely, and in Syria to destroy ISIS where they exist.

SIEGEL: But you just drew a distinction between Iraq and Syria when you were talking...

KASICH: ...No, I said I wouldn't involve myself in a civil war in Syria, but that's a different issue than fighting ISIS - a big distinction.

SIEGEL: You do have another week here in New Hampshire.

KASICH: Right.

SIEGEL: And you just told a group you're not going to do anything different.

KASICH: No..

SIEGEL: What - tell me what happens. Tell me how it is that New Hampshire voters are going to make their decisions in the last week and come to you, John Kasich.

KASICH: Well, they're already coming to me. I'm in second place in the polls. If I - and at the beginning of this interview, you pointed out that people are running negative ads against me. They're not running negative ads against me because I'm doing poorly. They're running negative ads against me because I'm doing well. So we just continue to do what we're doing, and I think we're doing very well. And I think we are expanding, we've got a great ground game, good TV ads, and I'm happy with where we are.

SIEGEL: Gov. Kasich, thanks for talking with us today.

KASICH: One of the best things I've done during this hour. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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