The knives are starting to come out for one of the GOP's surging candidates

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GOP Field: Who's Got the Least Baggage?

In recent weeks, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) has been enjoying a surge in polls of the Republican presidential primary field.

And as Kasich has been making gains, some of his rivals are arguing he's noticeably to the left of the other GOP contenders.

An operative for an opposing GOP campaign pointed Business Insider to comments Kasich made about the Iran deal at an event on Monday as evidence of his liberalism relative to the rest of the field.

While many of the other leading GOP contenders have suggested they would nullify the nuclear agreement — with some pledging to rip it up on their "first day" in office — Kasich suggested he would keep it in place and police it. Though he noted he "wouldn't have" made the deal and hopes "against hope" that the Senate "will reject this deal," Kasich said he would "watch" it "every step of the way" if he takes office after the 2016 election.

The rival operative characterized this remark as proof Kasich is "the furthest to the left on standing up to Iran and defending Israel, which is emerging as a huge issue in the primary." The operative also argued this is just one issue on which Kasich is out of step with the rest of the Republican field.

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The knives are starting to come out for one of the GOP's surging candidates
Ohio Gov. John Kasich announces he is running for the 2016 Republican party’s nomination for president during a campaign rally at Ohio State University, Tuesday, July 21, 2015, in Columbus, Ohio. Kasich, a two-term governor and former congressman, has little name recognition in the crowded GOP field, but he is already airing television ads in New Hampshire where he is heading immediately after making his run official. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Ohio Gov. John Kasich announces he is running for the 2016 Republican party’s nomination for president during a campaign rally at Ohio State University, Tuesday, July 21, 2015, in Columbus, Ohio. Kasich, 63, launched his campaign before a crowd of 2,000 at an event marking the entry of a strong-willed and sometimes abrasive governor in a nomination race now with 16 notable Republicans. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Supporters wait for Ohio Gov. John Kasich to announce he is running for the 2016 Republican party’s nomination for president during a campaign rally at Ohio State University, Tuesday, July 21, 2015, in Columbus, Ohio. Kasich, a two-term governor and former congressman, has little name recognition in the crowded GOP field, but he is already airing television ads in New Hampshire where he is heading immediately after making his run official. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Ohio Gov. John Kasich gives Joshua Bowman a hug after hearing about his troubles about during a visit at RP Abrasives, Monday, July 13, 2015, in Rochester, N.H. Kasich is considering joining the crowded field of candidates seeking the Republican nomination for president. Joe Shean is at left. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks at an event at the Clark County Republican Party office Thursday, June 11, 2015, in Las Vegas. Kasich, a two-term Ohio governor and former member of the U.S. House, is considering running for the Republican nomination for president. (AP Photo/John Locher)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 19: Ohio Governor John Kasich speaks during the 'Road to Majority' conference June 19, 2015 in Washington, DC. Conservatives gathered at the annual event held by the Faith & Freedom Coalition and Concerned Women for America held the annual event to discuss politics. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
FILE - In this July 13, 2015, file photo, Ohio Gov. John Kasich talks with Joshua Bowman, right, and Joe Shean during a visit at RP Abrasives in Rochester, N.H. Kasich is declaring his candidacy for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination on July 21. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)
Ohio Gov. John Kasich presents Ohio's 2016-2017 operating budget after signing it Tuesday, June 30, 2015, in Columbus, Ohio. Kasich said the $71.2 billion, 2-year state budget he signed helps people without getting "loose" with the spending. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 19: Ohio Governor John Kasich speaks during the 'Road to Majority' conference June 19, 2015 in Washington, DC. Conservatives gathered at the annual event held by the Faith & Freedom Coalition and Concerned Women for America held the annual event to discuss politics. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 19- Republican presidential candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks during the Faith & Freedom Coalitions Road to Majority conference which featured speeches by conservative politicians at the Washington D.C. Omni Shoreham Hotel, June 19, 2015.(Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
NASHUA, NH - APRIL 18: Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit April 18, 2015 in Nashua, New Hampshire. The Summit brought together local and national Republicans and was attended by all the Republicans candidates as well as those eyeing a run for the nomination. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 03: Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) talks with the press after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address to a joint meeting of Congress in the House chamber, March 3, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
US Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (2nd L) waves alongside Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman (L) and Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) during a campaign stop at Tom's Ice Cream Bowl in Zanesville, Ohio, on August 14, 2012. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)
Gov. John Kasich of Ohio speaks at the second day of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, Tuesday, August 28, 2012. (Harry Walker/MCT via Getty Images)
MEET THE PRESS -- Pictured: (l-r) – Gov. Deval Patrick (D-MA) left, and Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) right, appear on 'Meet the Press' in Washington D.C., Sunday, June 3, 2012. (Photo by: William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 31: At the ornate Ohio State House, Ohio Governor John Kasich signs the newly passed Senate Bill 5, which limits collective bargaining for state workers in Ohio, in Columbus, Ohio, Thursday, March 31, 2011. Newly elected republican Ohio Governor John Kasich is working toward to balancing an Ohio budget in deficit through a budget proposal with extensive budget cuts, spending reform, and changes in labor laws, including restrictions on collective bargaining. (Photo by Melina Mara/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Ohio Governor-elect John Kasich talks to reporters after meeting with House Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio), right, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), left, and other GOP Governors-elect at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, December 1, 2010. (Photo by Mary F. Calvert/MCT/MCT via Getty Images)
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Specifically, the operative pointed to Kasich's support for expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and his past comments indicating he is unconcerned with the budget cuts that stemmed from sequestration and have hit the military. Opposition to both the Affordable Care Act, colloquially known as "Obamacare," and the sequester's defense cuts are widely seen as litmus-test issues for the GOP primary.

"He wants to keep the sequester, keep the deal with Iran, and expand Obamacare," the operative said. "Why not just vote for a Democrat? We need someone who's going to be unintimidated to take on the big fights in Washington — not just rearrange the desks in Obama's White House."

Another aide for a separate rival Republican campaign agreed with this criticism of Kasich. In fact, this operative argued Kasich is to the left of the GOP primary field "both on policy and rhetoric."

"A non-policy example, since those are kind of obvious, is how he refuses to criticize Hillary even when asked," the aide said.

As evidence, the aide pointed to what they described as "a really strange exchange" that occurred when Kasich was interviewed by conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt last month. During that conversation, Hewitt asked Kasich to "talk about Hillary for a moment." Kasich declined.

"Hugh, there's going to be plenty of time to talk about Hillary. Can we just, can I just talk about me and my record, and what I want to do, please?" Kasich asked.

Prior to his recent rise in the polls, many observers predicted being a relative moderate could actually be an asset for Kasich and help him stand out in the crowded GOP field. This conventional wisdom has been challenged by liberals who dispute the notion Kasich is more in line with their views than other Republicans. The idea Kasich is relatively left-leaning has also been vigorously denied by the man himself.

See photos of all the officially announced 2016 candidates:

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All officially announced 2016 Presidential candidates
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The knives are starting to come out for one of the GOP's surging candidates

Business mogul Donald Trump (R)

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont (D)

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Neurosurgeon Ben Carson of Maryland (R)

(Photo/Paul Sancya)

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R)

(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky (R)

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida (R)

(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of New York (D)

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania (R)

(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (R)

(Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Former CEO, Businesswoman Carly Fiorina of California (R)

(Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty Images)

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas (R)

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Former New York Governor George Pataki (R)

(Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina (R)

(Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

Former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley (D)

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R)

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Ohio Governor John Kasich (R)

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore (R)

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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Indeed, Kasich campaign spokesman Rob Nichols sent Business Insider a point-by-point rebuttal of the comments made by the two rival GOP campaign operatives. Nichols pointed out Kasich has said he would get rid of the caps on defense spending imposed by the sequester and that Kasich's interview with Hewitt included him vowing he's the Republican best suited to taking on Clinton. Additionally, Nichols argued Kasich wants to repeal Obamacare and has a record of opposition to the law.

"The governor is not for Obamacare but is committed to repealing it and replacing it with something actually reduces health care costs," Nichols said. "As governor, he said no to a state exchange, no to federal regulation of Ohio's health insurance market, and no to a federal takeover of Ohio's Medicaid eligibility determination. He's on record calling for Obamacare's repeal and replacement from the beginning and that hasn't changed."

On Iran, Nichols similarly pointed to Kasich's stated opposition for the deal. He also argued Kasich's suggestion he would "watch" the agreement if he becomes president doesn't rule out the possibility he would nullify it. Rather, Nichols claimed it simply wouldn't be smart for Kasich to "telegraph" to Iran how he would handle the situation if he takes office.

"The governor strongly opposes the Iran deal, would never have made it and hopes Congress rejects it. What others promise today they'll do to the deal if they're elected — and Congress fails to reject it — as proof of their so-called toughness, actually only betrays their inexperience," Nichols said.

"Experienced leaders don't telegraph their punches, presume to be able to predict the geopolitical landscape 15 months in the future, or ever make statements on foreign policy that restrict their freedom to maneuver. Since it's not a treaty, the Iran deal isn't even binding on future Administrations. The goal is to deny Iran a nuclear weapon and people should keep their eye on the goal."

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