COLUMBUS, Ohio—As Republican Gov. John Kasich travels the country in a quest for the presidency, his people back home want Ohioans to know that he’s still focused on his day job. As his spokesman put it: “his cellphone works just as well in Cincinnati, Iowa, as it works in Cincinnati, Ohio.”
But is he just phoning it in? That’s a question every officeholder running for the presidency faces.
Rivals have hit Florida’s Marco Rubio with mounting criticism over his spotty attendance record in the Senate.
The freshman senator has missed 31 percent of the votes this year, including every vote held so far in October. That’s more than any of the other three senators competing for the GOP nomination.
Kasich, one of three governors vying for the White House, has held just three public events in Ohio since joining the race nearly three months ago. Like his rivals, he’s been tromping through the early voting states of New Hampshire, South Carolina, Iowa and more.
The governor’s spokesman, Jim Lynch, says Kasich remains in frequent contact with legislative leaders, his Cabinet members and other senior administration staff.
“In this day and age, the operations of the state are not impacted by being out of the office,” Lynch said, noting the governor can easily dial his home state while he’s away.
A cellphone connection won’t always cut it for senators, who must be in Washington to vote on legislation or ask questions at congressional hearings.
Rubio missed a key vote on defunding Planned Parenthood last month, campaigning at a Florida retirement community instead. After calling out the Obama administration for not doing more to free Americans held in Iran, he skipped voting on a Senate resolution demanding the Americans’ release. Instead he attended a fundraiser.
Rubio’s competitors have taken note of his absences, especially since his strong performance in last month’s presidential debate moved him up in polls.
Republican front-runner Donald Trump has repeatedly blasted Rubio’s no-shows. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has stepped up his criticism of senators who miss votes.
Bush has avoided naming Rubio, but it’s clear that’s who he means.
“If congressmen and women are elected to serve, they should actually show up and vote,” Bush said in Iowa the day after Rubio missed a vote on a military funding bill. “They should be going to committee hearings and challenging the executive to do their oversight responsibilities. They should vote when there’s a reauthorization of the defense bill when we’re gutting the military.”
Rubio has brushed away the criticism. His aides say he has not missed a vote in which he would have decided a bill’s fate.
“Guys, I’m running for president,” Rubio told reporters in New Hampshire, meaning: Give me a break.
He’s argued that no progress can be made in Washington until Republicans re-take the White House anyway.
There is, of course, no way for any senator or governor to make a serious run for the White House without being absent to some extent. Neither Bush nor Trump has any public office responsibilities to tend while traveling the country.
Ohioans don’t seem to mind much that Kasich has been gone, judging by the 62 percent job-approval rating from voters surveyed in a recent Quinnipiac University poll.
That’s not been the case for others campaigning for president.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s travels are exceedingly unpopular in Louisiana, where they are at least partially blamed for his very low approval rates in the state. State lawmakers also tried to curb taxpayer spending on Jindal’s state-trooper protective detail for campaign trips, but he vetoed the effort.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, too, has taken heat for his security spending. He’s being sued by three left-leaning advocacy groups for using taxpayer money to pay for his security detail. And a majority of registered New Jersey voters surveyed in a Rutgers-Eagleton poll from August thought Christie’s frequent travel hurt his effectiveness as governor.
Kasich was steadfast when asked by a statehouse reporter last month who was in charge of Ohio while he’s out courting voters elsewhere. “Me,” he asserted. “There’s these things called telephones — cellphones.”
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who left the presidential contest last month having once been a top-tier candidate, acknowledged in a recent interview the struggles of dividing attention between governing and campaigning for president. He’s returned to work with a job performance rating at a low-water mark and a need to rebuild his base of support.
Walker told WTMJ radio that he if were to run a third time for governor after his current term ends in 2018, he believes he would have to rule out a White House bid during his potential next term.
“I think it is difficult to run your state and to run for president at the same time,” he said.