More so than any other leading Republican, Gov. Kasich is using his perch to promote a blend of conservative orthodoxy leavened with liberal policies meant to help the poor, the mentally ill and the uninsured.
To hear him tell it, the 61-year-old onetime Lehman Brothers executive wants to rebrand the Republican Party by refashioning what it means to be a conservative in the 21st century.
On the one hand, he tamed a deficit by slashing funding to local governments and overhauling the state's Medicaid rules, among things. He has eliminated the state's estate tax and wants to phase out all state income taxes, a step aimed at stimulating growth. A budget he signed in June included a range of new abortion restrictions that drew sharp criticism from Democrats.
At the same time, Mr. Kasich has stirred strong opposition from tea-party leaders—and won surprised approval from liberals—by pushing to expand Medicaid coverage to nearly 300,000 additional Ohioans, adopting a provision of the Obama health-care overhaul that he has taken to defending with an openly religious fervor..
..See Kasich's action on an autism insurance mandate.
Driving back to Ohio last month from a Cape Cod vacation with his family, Mr. Kasich stopped to eat in Buffalo, N.Y. He asked a few people at random if they had ever met Jack Kemp, the late Buffalo Bills quarterback who became a congressman and 1996 vice-presidential nominee.
Mr. Kemp, who once described himself as a "bleeding-heart conservative," built a reputation as a Republican who focused on urban minorities and the poor.
"It was Jack, over and over again, who talked about lifting people, about hopes and dreams," Mr. Kasich said. "Jack had a profound impact on the conservative moment. Maybe I have a chance to do that, too."