(RNS) Ohio Gov. John Kasich, soundly defeated in the Republican presidential primaries, headed for the campaign exit Wednesday (May 4) after falling behind Indiana primary winner Donald Trump.
It was the end of the quiet, overlooked candidacy of the GOP contender who refused to join the insult slugfest between Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, and Sen. Ted Cruz, who suspended his campaign Tuesday night.
Kasich came to the final podium Wednesday afternoon and gave the speech of a humble man who had only great words for his campaign experiences. He described welcoming people, “magical” vistas and hugs from hurting people who “changed me with the stories of their lives.”
Humility and magic were words he turned to often. “God gave me the grace to make people feel safe and comfortable and they came to these town halls and they were absolutely magic. We all need to slow down our lives and listen to those who are around us.”
Kasich did run briefly through the core issues of his candidacy.
When The New York Times endorsed Kasich on the eve of the Iowa caucus, the paper’s praise focused on his pragmatic, calm voice for “government’s duty to protect the poor, the mentally ill and others ‘in the shadows.'”
He told conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt: “Look, we have a lot of candidates who like the prince of darkness. I consider myself the prince of light and hope.”
But Wednesday it all led up to this: “The essence of America lies in the hearts and the souls of us. We all need to live a life bigger than ourselves. We have to reach out and help someone else. …
“The Lord may have another purpose for me, as he has for everyone,” he concluded. “As I suspend my campaign today, I have renewed faith, deeper faith the Lord will show me the way forward and fulfill the purpose of my life.”
Here are five faith facts about Kasich.
1. He started out Catholic, and the faith is “always going to be a part of me.”
In one of his two books about faith, values and politics, Kasich, 63, described growing up as “a card-carrying Catholic” child of immigrants in “working-class church-abiding” McKees Rocks, Pa.
Kasich wrote: “I drifted away from religion as a young adult. Then I looked up one day, and there was a huge hole in my life where God and religion had been.”
He turned back to faith after his parents were killed by a drunken driver. His 2010 book, “Every Other Monday,” drew its name from the biweekly Bible study he’s attended for two decades. In that book, he described taking Scripture word for word, including that Noah “undertook the impossibly, unfathomably huge task (of building the ark) and completed it heroically.”
The book was panned by Publishers Weekly, which wrote, “The Christianity that emerges from these pages is tame and has nothing profound to say.”
2. He “doesn’t find God in church.”
Instead, Kasich said: “He’s with me wherever I happen to be. I go to church because that’s what you do. I find God in the stories of the Bible, in the random acts of kindness I see every day, in the choices I make and the ways I interact.”
But he does belong to a church — St. Augustine in Westerville, Ohio, part of the conservative Anglican Church in North America. The denomination broke away from the Episcopal Church after the liberal church consecrated an openly gay bishop. The ACNA does not permit female bishops or ordain noncelibate LGBT priests.
3. He’s not afraid to lob Scripture at critics.
The Columbus Dispatch, covering his 2014 re-election campaign, noted that he “cites God regularly,” as when he justified the expansion of Medicaid to more than a quarter-million Ohioans.
Indeed, he felt free to stand up for that Medicaid expansion in a conference room full of Republican mega-donors last year. According to Politico, Randy Kendrick, a major donor whose husband owns the Arizona Diamondbacks, questioned the decision and Kasich’s God-based rationale.
Politico writes: “The governor’s response was fiery. ‘I don’t know about you, lady,’ he said as he pointed at Kendrick, his voice rising. ‘But when I get to the pearly gates, I’m going to have an answer for what I’ve done for the poor.'”
That anecdote was repeated often during the long months of his earnest campaign but it failed to catch fire in a time when insults flew among the candidates.
4. He’s a realist on gay marriage and abortion.
Kasich voted for the Defense of Marriage Act years ago and supported Ohio’s ban on gay marriage. But he was pragmatic after the Supreme Court ruling June 26, 2015, overturned state bans. Two days later, he was interviewed on “Face the Nation” and said: “I believe in traditional marriage, but the Supreme Court has ruled. It’s the law of the land, and we’ll abide by it. … It’s time to move on.”
5. On the campaign trail …
From Iowa in February to Indiana in May, Kasich offered a measured, faith-touched stump speech.
Kasich frequently called for conservatives to focus less on saber-rattling over ISIS, immigration and Obamacare and more on other urgent issues, such as jobs, national defense and “healing the division between races.”
He still aligned with all the GOP front-runners on opposition to abortion. But the former altar boy never joined the outcry to defund Planned Parenthood, even if it took shutting down the government, “because I don’t think it’s going to work out.”
(Cathy Lynn Grossman is a senior national correspondent for RNS)