Republican presidential candidate John Kasich, in Jericho on Thursday, touted himself as the most electable person in the race, citing polls showing him beating Hillary Clinton while his two GOP rivals would lose to her.
“You win the primary and lose the general, what’s the point?” he said during an hour-long MSNBC town hall at Milleridge Inn Cottage that will be broadcast at 7 p.m. Thursday night. “What, do you hang a certificate on the wall?”
Kasich is running second to Donald Trump in statewide polls ahead of Tuesday’s New York GOP primary, but trails Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the national delegate count.
Kasich’s hopes rest on neither Trump nor Cruz obtaining the 1,237 delegates needed to win the Republican nomination and him winning the nomination in a contested convention in Cleveland in July.
Kasich said he would gain support as voters knew more about him. “The Trump voters are comfortable with me, and the more they know me, the more they like me, because I grew up more like them than Trump did,” he said, alluding to his blue-collar upbringing.
In a talk with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and in answering questions from several audience members, Kasich cast himself as he has throughout his campaign — as a less divisive candidate than his GOP opponents who is carrying “a message of hope.”
Kasich vowed to secure the border and prevent people from entering the country illegally. But he also called for a guest-worker program and, in comments at the town hall and at a brief news conference afterward, said the estimated 11 million people now in the country illegally should be given a path to legalization — not citizenship — if they don’t have criminal records and pay back taxes and perhaps fines.
“We’re not going to go yanking them out of their homes and deporting them,” he said.
Pressed by Matthews on how he’d deal with employers who hire immigrants in the country illegally as “cheap labor,” Kasich said the business owners should be fined — an approach now in the law but which some anti-illegal-immigration activists say isn’t as enforced as strongly as it should be.
“We’re going to have to hold them accountable,” he said.
Joanne Flood, a registered Republican from Rockville Centre, said she is voting for Kasich largely because of his experience as a congressman — he was a budget committee chairman — and as Ohio governor.
“He’s substantive and he seems to have a heart,” she said. “He cares about people and strikes a balance in what he does.”