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WASHINGTON (AP) — Wisconsin's Scott Walker has emerged as a force in the 2016 White House contest. It's a position two other Republican governors from the Midwest, lesser known but similarly ambitious, undoubtedly would like to be in.
Like Walker, John Kasich in Ohio and Rick Snyder in Michigan have strong resumes and political successes in states where the GOP often struggles. They offer a distinct form of pragmatic politics that differs sharply from that of their combative counterpart in Wisconsin.
Kasich has taken steps toward a presidential bid, emboldened by the absence of a clear front-runner and by warm reviews from appearances in New Hampshire and South Carolina. The 62-year-old former congressman was in Washington to sound out prospective staff and gauge establishment support soon after setting up a political organization to facilitate his national ambitions.
"I didn't fall off a turnip truck," Kasich said at a Capitol Hill news conference. He cited his 18 years in Congress, a subsequent decade in the private sector and his current status as a two-term governor. "I'm more experienced than anybody in the field."
Snyder recently began his first national tour since allies created a nonprofit organization to broaden his profile. Almost unknown outside Michigan, the former business executive made two private appearances at an April gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition, attended the White House Correspondents' Association dinner and appeared in Southern California this past week.
"Could he be a presidential candidate?" asked former Michigan GOP chairman Bobby Schostak, who's leading the pro-Snyder nonprofit group. "That's something time will tell — although obviously not a lot of time." He said "there's room for a candidate like him, notwithstanding the size of the field."
The first debate comes in just four months, and the contest for the Republican nomination is well underway.
The early establishment favorite, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, is raising money and trying to line up backers. Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas have joined the race. Walker and others are expected to follow suit.
Kasich and Snyder have been afterthoughts in the early scramble for money and attention. Yet supporters note that both offer strong backgrounds and a recent record of economic success in important states.
"A resume isn't enough," said veteran Republican strategist Kevin Madden, when asked about the Midwestern governors. "You have to demonstrate you have the ability to break out of the pack with big ideas that inspire and help you build a broad coalition of supporters."
Kasich led the House Budget Committee, flirted with a presidential bid before the 2000 election and hosted a Fox News show. Still, he is only slightly better known nationally than Snyder, a certified public accountant.
The 56-year-old Snyder cast himself as "one tough nerd" in his rise to political prominence in Michigan. Kasich is known for his frenetic, unfiltered personality that is both an asset and liability at times.
Further, their tendency to favor pragmatism over ideology puts them at odds with tea party supporters who hold outsized influence in the presidential primary process.
Kasich expanded Medicaid as part of the federal health care overhaul. He criticizes those who demonize President Barack Obama and emphasizes the need to care for the mentally ill and drug addicts. Snyder also expanded Medicaid, largely avoids attacking rivals, and is in the midst of a fight to increase Michigan's sales tax to help upgrade the state's infrastructure.
Should they run, Kasich and Snyder would compete for the same group of independent-minded voters who might be drawn to Bush or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, considered more moderate than most in the pack.
Kasich shrugged off Walker's early popularity among prominent donors.
"I'd love to have everybody's support, but I've learned in my lifetime that if you can get enough people, then you can be effective," Kasich said last week in Washington. "I am moving forward."
Eggert reported from Lansing, Michigan.
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