Ohio Gov. John Kasich on Tuesday announced he will join the 2016 Republican primary race for the White House, telling voters he has the “skills and experience” to restore the American dream.
“I am here to ask you for your prayers, your support, your efforts because I have decided to run for president of the United States,” said Kasich, a two-term governor who also spent 18 years in Congress.
The 63-year-old Kasich became the 16th GOP candidate -- and perhaps not the last -- when he declared his candidacy at the Ohio State University.
“The American Dream is pivotal to the future of our country,” he said. “But I have to tell you, a lot of people are not sure that dream is still possible, not sure that dream is still alive. … I have the skills and experience” to restore that dream.
Kasich, known for his bluntness, was overwhelmingly re-elected last year to a second term as governor, winning bipartisan support for cutting taxes and improving the state economy.
Prior to becoming governor, Kasich served in the U.S. House from 1983 to 2001, where in 1995 he ascended to chairman of the chamber’s Budget committee. In 1997, he helped seal a federal balanced budget deal.
Kasich also made a White House bid in 2000, but dropped out before the Iowa Straw Poll.
"He's certainly going to be a viable candidate," Republican campaign strategist Ed Rollins told FoxNews.com on Monday. "No one's more qualified than he is. No one has more knowledge about the federal government. ... He was an extraordinary governor."
Kasich enters the race facing long odds. But he will likely use the situation to his advantage -- telling voters he understands tough challenges, considering he was the only Republican elected to Congress in 1982, and that he's eager to lead the fight for the middle class.
He was also the youngest person to be elected to the Ohio Senate, when he won a seat in 1979 as a 26-year-old.
On Monday, Kasich was ranked No. 12 among the top 15 GOP candidates with 1.5 percent of the vote, according to an averaging of polls by the nonpartisan website RealClearPolitics.com. Former New York Gov. George Pataki is not listed in the poll average. Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore is also expected to enter the GOP race.
No Republican has won the White House without carrying Ohio.
Kasich, a former Fox News Channel commentator, is now one of four governors in the GOP field -- joining New Jersey’s Chris Christie, Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker.
One of his biggest challenges will be getting into the top tier of Republican candidates to qualify for some early debates. And he must convince primary voters who question his conservative credentials that his decision to expand ObamaCare in Ohio was a moral imperative to help the poor.
"John Kasich’s decision to expand Medicaid in Ohio in 2013 was a costly mistake,” said David McIntosh, president of Club for Growth. “Medicaid enrollment in Ohio has far outpaced Kasich’s projections and more than doubled in cost. The Club for Growth is concluding its research into Kasich’s broader record on issues of economic freedom. But, our presidential white paper on the Ohio governor will, no doubt, warn of the long-lasting consequences from his decision to burden Ohio with an ever-growing price tag for Medicaid expansion.”
Unions that turned back an effort by Kasich and fellow Republicans to limit public workers' collective bargaining rights say Kasich's successes have come at a cost to local governments and schools, and that new Ohio jobs lack the pay and benefits of the ones they replaced. They plan a protest outside Tuesday's launch.
Kasich’s parents were killed by a drunken driver in 1987, an event that purportedly strengthened his religious faith. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Ohio State in 1974.
As a freshman political science major in 1970, he audaciously wrote a letter that landed him a 20-minute audience with President Richard Nixon.
New Day for America, the group supporting Kasich's White House bid, recently said it has raised more than $11.5 million in just over eight weeks.
That's in line with several of the better known Republican presidential contenders, though former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's team recently announced a fundraising haul exceeding $114 million.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.