From New Hampshire to Michigan and South Carolina, kids have promised the Ohio governor they’ll stay away from drugs. Kasich’s crusade began as a response to questions from voters about how he would address substance abuse; he says “we’ll give you some money” but that personal pitches are key.
That message has become part of his stump speech regardless of whether his audiences actually broach the topic themselves.
“Do you know you’re made special? Did you know that?” Kasich told two young boys Saturday after pointing at them and beckoning them onstage at a rally in Mauldin, South Carolina. “You want to make a commitment to get your buddies to realize,” he told Preston, 11, and Daniel, 14, “that you don’t mess around with drugs? Huh?”
The kids agreed, the crowd applauded and Kasich proclaimed: “That’s how we beat drugs in our neighborhood. I don’t know these boys, but I don’t have to know them. Because I care about them without even knowing them.”
Then, he stopped himself, noticing another potential mark. “Are you still in school?” he asked a young man in the crowd, who told him he was. “You’re in high school,” Kasich said. “No drugs.”
The scourge of drugs rose to national prominence in recent months when presidential candidates crisscrossing New Hampshire, the first state in the nation to hold primary elections, heard tales of abuse and addiction at what seemed like every stop. An October poll of Granite Staters showed nearly half knew someone who had abused heroin in the previous five years, and candidates took notice.
Kasich himself has admitted that he tried marijuana when he was younger, although he does not mention his own background when he pulls the kids before hundreds of attendees at his town hall-style meetings. This week, he rolled out his anti-drug spiel at events in Michigan and South Carolina, always tinged with the motivational message that one’s life is too special to ruin for a quick fix.
Kasich, whose gubernatorial administration has combated its own heroin epidemic in Ohio, altered his advice somewhat for audiences at universities this week.
“I beg you,” he told students at Grand Valley State University, in Allendale, Michigan, Monday. “When you go to that party, OK, and you’re having the second drink or the third drink, OK, and the bowl of pills that’s over here on the side,” he said, pointing. “Don’t go near ’em.”
Kasich, whose parents died in a crash caused by a drunken driver, has said he is open to exploring using marijuana’s medical benefits and that he opposes jailing people for smoking weed, but he opposes legalizing the drug.
Not everyone proves receptive to his “just-say-no” crusade.
On Monday in Utica, Michigan, just outside Detroit, a little boy in the front row looked up in apparent terror as Kasich zeroed in on him and said: “You don’t ever mess with drugs, do you?"
Overwhelmed with the attention, the boy burst into tears.