Kasich town hall draws standing-room only crowd

GVL / Kevin Sielaff – Governor of Ohio and Republican presidential hopeful John Kasich speaks inside the Grand River Room in Kirkhof Monday, Feb. 15, 2016.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL / Kevin Sielaff – Governor of Ohio and Republican presidential hopeful John Kasich speaks inside the Grand River Room in Kirkhof Monday, Feb. 15, 2016.

Audra Gamble

In just 20 days, Michiganders will take to the polls to make their voice heard for the first time in the 2016 presidential race.

As the March 8 primaries draw nearer and nearer, candidates from both sides of the aisle will focus more attention and funds on the Mitten State. However, some candidates are getting out ahead of the rest of the field in the hopes of snagging a win in Michigan.

For Ohio governor and Republican presidential candidate John Kasich, a strong showing in the Midwest is key to the continuation of his Oval Office bid. In order to kick off his Michigan efforts, Kasich held a town hall meeting at Grand Valley State University on Feb. 15 in the Grand River Room of the Kirkhof Center.

Though the event was moved from the Pere Marquette Room to its final location due to overcrowding concerns, the Grand River Room was still standing-room only on Monday morning. According to College Republicans President Mike Sullivan, 700-750 attendees showed up to the event.

“I didn’t think it’d be that much,” Sullivan said. “We exceeded capacity. I was happy with the turnout from the students, especially.”

Kasich’s speech was a mix between policy and paternal advice, focusing on how his stances on issues would affect college students.

“All of us adults promised young people that if you go to college, everything would be great,” Kasich said. “Somehow, we got let down.”

Kasich touched on his views on mental health, small businesses, job readiness and the recent death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Amid Kasich’s policy points, he also urged college students to make smart decisions in their social lives.

“When you go to that party and you’re having that drink, don’t going near that bowl of pills,” Kasich said. “(There are) too many young drug addicts. Please don’t go there.”

The town hall setting gave Kasich the opportunity to expand upon his few opportunities to express his views he receives in national Republican debates. His message appealed to many in attendance.

“I’ve always been a John Kasich fan from the beginning, but I didn’t think he was really capable of getting the primary because he was so low,” said University of Illinois student Tim Zwartz, who came to GVSU just for the town hall. “I think when he came in second in New Hampshire, he’s showing the American people and the primary voters that he has a shot to take down (Donald) Trump, which I think would be really good for the Republican Party and the national election.”

However, not all young voters bought into Kasich’s ideas.

“I have mixed feelings about Kasich,” said GVSU student John Foreman. “I think he’s pandering too hard to the left and to moderates. I think it’s thinking like that that has led to a weak Republican Party for the past 20 years and Kasich would just be an extenuation of that.”

While Kasich is not currently polling well in Michigan, his presence at GVSU gave many students their first opportunity to engage with a presidential campaign in person.

“I was interested as an active person in civil engagement,” said student senator Kris Butler. “It’s not often that you get to hear a presidential candidate speak, so that was an opportunity that I wasn’t going to miss.”

For Sullivan, the large turnout was encouraging to see, particularly heading into the home stretch before Michigan’s primaries.

“I think students at Grand Valley care about issues going on in politics right now,” Sullivan said. “I think they’re showing that we’re a university that becomes engaged not only in the classroom, but out in the public.”