Noah Daponte-Smith

After months of campaigning across the U.S., presidential candidates have finally turned their attention toward Connecticut.

Politicians vying for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations have traversed the nation over the last year, crisscrossing from Iowa to Massachusetts to, most recently, Wyoming. But the Nutmeg State, with its primaries scheduled late in the cycle on April 26, had been overlooked — until Friday. That was when Ohio Gov. John Kasich, contender for the Republican nomination, became the first candidate to hold a rally in Connecticut with his town hall event on the Sacred Heart University campus in Fairfield.

Kasich is running as a moderate against businessman Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Connecticut, with its history of center-right Republican governors and congressmen, is seen as favorable territory for him. As a result, it comes as no surprise that he, and not his rivals, has chosen to campaign in Connecticut just under three weeks before its primary.

Kasich’s stump speech in Fairfield focused on the common themes of his campaign: community, conciliation, togetherness.

“If you want to see the spirit of our country renewed, if you want to see hope come back to America — it’s in you,” Kasich said. “It’s in what we do in our neighborhoods, what we do in our parishes. What’s happened is we’ve lost confidence in our ability to change the world in which we live.”

Kasich has emphasized the element of human sympathy at his town halls across the country, and he repeated that pattern in Fairfield. When a Sacred Heart student in the audience told him of her family’s wrangling with the Department of Veterans Affairs after her father died of factors related to exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam, Kasich vowed to make sure the VA resolves her family’s case.

One outsized personality hung over the town hall, though his name went nearly unsaid — Donald Trump, the race’s current frontrunner. Presidents, Kasich said, should foster unity, rather than drive wedges in the nation.

“We’re not winning? We’re winning everything,” Kasich said. “People have got to stop whining about America. What that is — that’s playing with people’s fears. Great leaders don’t drive people into depression, great leaders don’t divide people. They bring people together, and they solve divisions.”

The factors inspiring the country’s current division, Kasich said, are complex and nefarious. He singled out special interest groups for particular scorn, saying they have pushed agendas “designed to separate us from one another.”

Kasich’s style at the town hall was open and — in keeping with his campaign theme — honest. One attendee, saying she was attracted to Cruz’s proposals for a flat tax, asked Kasich what he thought of the idea. Kasich responded in comedic fashion.

“Why don’t you and I just meet at the airport tonight and just flap our arms?” he said to laughter around the room. “Because that’s easier than changing the tax code to a flat tax.”

Questions from around the room dealt with a variety of subjects, including Common Core, fracking, the nation’s medical system and the arcane rules of the Republican convention in Cleveland — a complicated slate of rules that will likely prove vital to Kasich’s bid for the nomination.

In an area not known for extremist tendencies, Kasich’s accompaniment at the town hall reinforced his moderate credentials. Kasich’s opening speaker was Chris Shays, a former representative for much of southwestern Connecticut, who campaigned for Arizona Sen. John McCain in 2008 on Sacred Heart’s campus. Shays described Kasich as a candidate with experience in practical governance, equipped with the skills to create jobs and get the country’s financial house in order.

Shays urged attendees to reject Trump’s demagoguery and Cruz’s inexperience.

“The promise of America has had some problems, and you all have a right to be angry, and there is a solution,” he said. “The solution is not to elect an angry man that acts like a seventh-grade bully — excuse me, that would be giving seventh-grade bullies a bad name — and it’s not to elect a one-term senator. Been there, done that.”

Also introducing Kasich was state Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, Kasich’s state chair for Connecticut. Citing Kasich’s record of solid budgetary management and job creation, Hwang compared Ohio’s economy before Kasich’s tenure as governor to Connecticut’s current economic malaise, arguing that Kasich’s economic record provided him with “real substance beyond the sizzle.”

A host of Connecticut Republican dignitaries attended Friday’s town hall. August Wolf, a candidate for the Republican nomination against Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, worked the crowd, shaking hands with voters and vowing to “take lyin’ little Dick and send him home” while his staff handed out mug cozies.

Wolf’s opponent for the Republican nomination, Rep. Dan Carter, R-Bethel, was also in attendance, along with numerous former and current Republican state legislators.