“If you ever want to bring about change, start from the top,” Gov. John Kasich of Ohio said to a crowd of supporters in New York on Monday, delivering an energetic and positive speech despite his underdog status in the presidential campaign. The Republican candidate met with constituents in a Town Hall at Hofstra University, sharing his own personal brand of down-to-earth politics. He started with an anecdote from his own induction into politics as an idealistic young student. At the age of 18, Kasich wrote a letter to then-President Richard Nixon, asking for a meeting, and was granted five minutes with the president. “I didn’t come all this way for five lousy minutes,” he reminisced, talking about the event over 40 years ago. “I [sat] at his desk for 20 minutes, as an 18-year-old.” But, he said, that was the most amount of time he spent in the Oval Office — including his 18-year career as a member of the House of Representatives.“I peaked at 18,” he joked. “I should’ve moved to the Big Apple and maybe gone to Hofstra!” It was an example of the style of self-deprecating, down-to-earth dad-humor that’s become Kasich’s personal trademark. While applauding how involved and intelligent the American youth is, he couldn’t help but add that “[he wishes] they knew a little bit less about the Beebs and a little bit more about how we pick a president.” But while the crowd was older, many students attended the rally to learn about the Republican candidate. Multiple people told Refinery29 that they hadn’t necessarily decided who to vote for, a scant two weeks before the state's primary — and, in fact, they were there to try to make an educated decision. “I’m a new voter, and I’m trying to be open-minded and see what every candidate has to say,” said Jason Abdow, 18. The 2016 presidential race will be the first time he votes in an election. “I learned a little more about John Kasich.” In his speech, Kasich addressed the discrepancy between himself and front-runner Donald Trump. Campaigning in Wisconsin on Sunday evening, Trump called for Kasich to drop out of the race due to his flagging numbers. Having won only one state — his home state of Ohio, where he serves as governor — Kasich is currently last in both number of states and number of delegates won. As of April 4, Kasich only has 143 delegates, a little more than one-tenth of the 1,237 needed to win his party’s nomination. “If I didn’t have Kasich, I automatically win,” Trump said. He suggested that it was unfair for the Kasich campaign to take away delegates from being awarded to either himself or the current second-place candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Kasich dismissed that. "I thought we got out of the sandbox years ago,” he said of Trump’s tendency toward personal attacks, pointing out that Trump’s argument is that the votes ‘should be’ his own. “I’m dropping in, not dropping out.” Kasich’s paternal charm resonated with the crowd. One woman, who stood up to ask the final question of the day, praised the candidate’s “honest integrity” and said he reminded her of her father. But it wasn’t all, in Kasich's own words, a "lovefest" at the gathering. One young woman took the opportunity to challenge Kasich on his approach to women’s healthcare. “How can you claim to be a candidate for women and families when you defunded Planned Parenthood in Ohio, in your own home state?” she asked, as the audience applauded loudly. In February of this year, Kasich signed a bill that stripped state and some federal funding from organizations that perform “nontherapeutic” abortions in Ohio. “The secret is out: John Kasich is terrible for women’s health,” Dawn Laguens, vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement at the time, adding that he avoided discussing it on the campaign trail. Kasich dodged the connection to Planned Parenthood, instead touting his acceptance of Medicaid expansion in his state, something that many other Republican politicians had rejected. “I think the organization has discredited itself,” he said, continuing that women would still be able to access healthcare at hospitals. “There are 300,000 women in the state of Ohio that get healthcare that they hadn’t been getting before,” due to the Medicaid expansion, he said. Speaking to Refinery29 after the event, the woman who asked the question about Planned Parenthood said, "He claims that women will still have healthcare — but what he means is that women who have the resources and are middle-class or upper-class and can pay for this healthcare can have [it], when the low-income women are suffering."
The one subject where he seemed to find a lot of support among young voters — foreign policy. Johannes Sorto, 21, president of the Hofstra Republicans Club, said “For me, [who to vote for] is about creating jobs, and I think it’s also about foreign policy. How to defeat ISIS and stop Iran from getting nuclear bombs,” he said. “He has the best plan for national security and how we can combat ISIS,” said Kana Niccolino, 19, another member of the Republicans Club. “He’s got the experience from spending so much time on the House Arms Committee, and I think he’s got the best foreign policy experience. Brothers Anthony and Allon Avgi, 18 and 20 respectively, also said that they were interested in the governor’s stance on the Middle East. “I really care about John Kasich’s Israel policies and healthcare policies,” Allon said. “I liked Trump until he said that he was going to charge Israel for everything we’ve given them, because we’re actually from Israel, and Kasich’s super pro-everything to do with Judaism in that category, so I appreciate everything he says.” He added that he hadn’t necessarily set his heart on Kasich yet, though. “We’ll see.” Another common thread is that Kasich takes his campaign seriously. “I think he’s great for millennials because he’s really more open, he’s a moderate Republican, and he’s really come off as that,” said Alexis Panteli, 19. “I’m supporting Kasich because I like what he stands for, I trust that he’s going to do a good job,” added Joe Sutton, 24, a Hofstra University graduate." With the New York primaries — 95 delegates are up for grabs — approaching, Kasich didn’t waste time self-aggrandizing. “If you didn’t like my presentation today — don’t tell anybody,” he said, as the crowd laughed. “ But if you like what I have to say and you want to give me a chance and you want me to get to the convention, I need your help,” he said. “So please vote.”