SYRACUSE — Experience, resilience and bringing both parties together — these are the traits Ohio Gov. John Kasich says he's banking on as the last moderate still standing in the battle for the Republican presidential nomination.
With New York's primary just 10 days away, Kasich took his series of town halls to Le Moyne College in Syracuse on Friday, pitching his experience creating jobs and balancing state and national budgets to upstate residents who, according to polls, currently favor billionaire and national GOP frontrunner Donald Trump.
A former long-time Ohio congressman re-elected to a second term as the Buckeye State's governor in 2014, Kasich has held almost 200 town hall events since announcing his candidacy in July.
Kasich opened with a quip asking the 1,000 visitors packed into Henninger Athletic Center why they didn't have anything better to do on a Friday night. He proceeded to work the crowd with a mix of personal history and humor, fielding questions on the fly on foreign policy, health care and Washington, D.C. spending.
He told a budget story to highlight the power of a positive attitude, saying when his first proposed budget went to the floor of the House of Representatives, it received only 30 votes in favor and 405 against.
"That means I got 29 other people to think I can run America," he said. "It was great. If you have a great idea, you keep at it. The more beatings you take, the more people will help you."
Kasich cast himself as an outsider who pestered Congressional leaders on freewheeling spending but worked with both parties and President Bill Clinton to pass a balanced budget in the 1990s — the first balanced budget, he said, "since man walked on the moon."
But despite his years inside politics, he argued he wasn't part of the political "establishment."
"I'm not against [the establishment], but nobody gives me orders," he said. "Except my wife."
He added, "You have to be an independent person [to lead] ... and you have to have friends to tell you if you go off track. And you don't quit. You don't give up, even if you have to step on a few toes."
Kasich's won only his home state in the primary fight, and according to Associated Press figures, he faces daunting delegate numbers, racking up only 143 compared to Trump's 742 and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's 505.
Even Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has more delegates at 171 despite leaving the race weeks ago.
But Cruz's January debate comment disparaging "New York values" has apparently come back to bite him, with polling data at Real Clear Politics showing Kasich holds almost a 4-point lead over Cruz in the battle for second place in New York, which is Trump's home state.
The Trump and Cruz campaigns have said they plan events in Syracuse next week.
On Friday, Kasich was serious when it came to supporting veterans and giving more power to the states in education, health care and infrastructure.
He also focused on national defense, touting his experience on the Armed Services and Budget committees, arguing world leaders need to "keep their cool" and refrain from "saying crazy things."
Kasich slammed Trump, calling it "absurd" to ban all Muslims when defeating ISIS requires "[that] our friends in the Arab world ... work with us."
He also took a shot at Cruz, taking issue with the senator's suggestion Muslim neighborhoods be "patrolled" by police, arguing that on the whole, "The world is overwhelmingly civilized."
The Ohioan received a standing ovation when he said he "refused to take the low road" to reach high office, in terms of how he ran his campaign.
He also tried to hammer home his executive experience, reminding visitors he helped create 400,000 jobs in Ohio, where the budget has shifted from a several billion dollar deficit to being "2 billion in the black" by imposing "common sense" regulations beneficial to small businesses, cutting taxes and demanding "fiscal discipline."
One crowd member, who said he liked Kasich's moderate tone, still wanted to know, bluntly, how Kasich could pull off a victory facing poor odds.
Kasich said he's expecting a brokered GOP convention in Cleveland and pointed to national polls.
"I'm the only one who beats Hillary," he said, calling out his Republican rivals' relative inexperience and adding "You can't do on-the-job training" for the presidency.
Former Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Syracuse, introduced Kasich, mentioning a "tall, lanky" Illinois lawyer who, in 1860, won the Republican nomination "on the third ballot."
"Our next president is John Kasich if it gets to the third ballot," Walsh said.
On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stumped at a rally in Syracuse on April 1, where she bashed the GOP trio — but especially Cruz and Trump — for instilling fear in the populace and fighting against what she described as common American rights.
Clinton's opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-VT, has excited millions of young voters fed up with an economy Sanders argues is stacked against them.
Sanders recently announced an event in Buffalo on Monday, with several volunteer events scheduled in the Syracuse area.
New York's primary is April 19.