Republican presidential candidate Gov. John Kasich has said he does not wear his faith on his sleeve, but as his campaign shifted to South Carolina this week, he has incorporated religion into his pitch in a deeply personal way that was absent in less-religious New Hampshire.
Kasich has honed his message in a state where about two-thirds of Republican voters are evangelicals, bringing the deeply personal story about how he found his faith to the forefront.
"I don't go out and try to win a vote by using God,” Kasich told reporters in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Feb. 3. "I think that cheapens God. But people know I'm sort of faith—I mean, I don’t think they know that or not. But I think they pick it up."
But in recent days, he has made his faith a central part of his message in South Carolina, which holds its GOP primary on Feb. 20, including taping a television advertisement in which he tells viewers about the deeply personal story of his parents’ death at the hands of a drunken driver in 1987. The tragedy, according to Kasich, reinvigorated his faith.
"My parents were killed by a drunk driver, but my parents did not die in vain," he says in the advertisement, which was slated to start airing Friday in South Carolina. "I was transformed. I discovered my purpose by discovering the Lord. I believe the Lord put us on this earth to use the gifts that we've been given to bring about a healing. And that's the motivation for me."
Kasich, who worships at an Anglican church and regularly attends a Bible study group, has always made his spirituality central to his pitch to voters, telling attendees of his over-100 town hall-style meetings in New Hampshire that it is important for communities to grow stronger and speaking of his faith in a more general sense. He often lauded the United States’ Judeo-Christian background.
"I'm a man of faith, so—but I don’t go out, like, wearing this on my sleeve," he said in an interview with Fox News last month.
In South Carolina, he has told hundreds of voters about his parents’ deaths, which he wrote about in a 2010 book, but never made it a staple of the stump speech he delivered frequently in New Hampshire.
At a campaign stop at a barbecue restaurant in Orangeburg, South Carolina, Kasich asked “those that are prayers” to not pray that he wins but that "I’ll accept whatever’s meant to be."
He laughingly invoked a Biblical story when he heard a man was named Jeremiah, and, in recounting the story of his parents' death, he cited a Bible passage and proclaimed that "the power of the Lord" was "the glue that keeps us together."
"I went through it," he said of his past tragedy. "The Lord gave me the grace to fully recover and put me in a position to be aware of other people’s problems."
In Francis Marion University in Florence, South Carolina, Kasich spoke of a "message" he received calling him to run for governor of Ohio in 2010. He mentioned the same "message" at a sentimental town hall meeting the night before he came in second in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary.