Meet the understated governor shaking up the presidential race

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John Kasich Finishes Second in New Hampshire Primary

If nothing else, Republican presidential candidate and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) is persistent.

He managed to parlay a meeting with the president of Ohio State University into a meeting with the president — of the United States — in the Oval Office, as NPR documented in December.

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In 1970, Kasich badgered the university president's office to get a meeting to discuss the state of a dormitory in which he lived.

The university's president, Novice Fawcett, told the young Kasich that he was due to visit then-President Richard Nixon soon in the White House. Kasich asked if he could tag along, but Fawcett rebuffed him. He did, however, agree to deliver a letter from Kasich praising Nixon as a great president. (This was before the Watergate scandal.)

That letter got Kasich an invitation to visit the White House, and he spoke with Nixon for 20 minutes in the Oval Office three days before Christmas in 1970.

Some 46 years later, Kasich is running to get back in the Oval Office — though he's looking to stay there for at least a four-year term.

Kasich finished second in Tuesday's New Hampshire Republican primary, claiming 15.8% of the vote. It was a surprisingly strong finish for someone who has, to this point, lagged in the low single digits in national polls.

Kasich NixonAndrew Burton/Getty Images

Now one of six major Republican candidates for president left standing, he has stood out from the once crowded field by projecting the image of a humble pragmatist. Aside from persistent and determined, the 63-year-old Kasich wants to be known as "honest, direct, authentic, and tenacious."

He's been portrayed as the antidote to the bombastic Republican front-runner Donald Trump, earning The New York Times' implicit endorsement for the nomination.

"Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, though a distinct underdog, is the only plausible choice for Republicans tired of the extremism and inexperience on display in this race," The Times editorial board wrote.

Kasich also has the air of an everyman — his answers to a survey from The Skimm, a newsletter aimed at young women, are completely without pretension.

In response to the prompt, "Tell us about yourself," Kasich emphasized his normalcy.

"I have twin daughters who are going to turn 16 on the 16th of January, 2016. I have a wife who is very smart and pretty. My daughters are smart and pretty. I'm lucky. I'm in public office, but I'm normal. I lead a very normal life," he said.

He describes himself as a "kid in a governor's body," says he doesn't have Netflix, and encourages students to put affordability before brand when consider which college to attend.

John KasichAndrew Burton/Getty Images

His reputation as a moderate might have helped him do well in New Hampshire, as he scored 27% support among self-identified moderate voters, according to exit polls.

But critics say his record should tarnished that image, arguing that he's not as moderate as some voters believe.

Kasich is pro-life, was opposed to same-sex marriage (although he says that he accepts the Supreme Court's ruling in favor of it and had "really good" champagne at the first gay wedding he attended), and favors putting "boots on the ground" in the fight against the terror group ISIS.

The Nate Silver-founded FiveThirtyEight website called Kasich a "Jeb Bush in Jon Huntsman clothing," pointing out that he "is seen as too moderate by GOP voters and appears to enjoy telling Republicans they're wrong."

But while some of his competitors face questions over their accomplishments in their political careers, Kasich can lay claim to at least one contrast: Experience. He served nine terms in Congress and is now serving his second term as the governor of Ohio.

Kasich has been involved in politics from a young age — he was a part of Ohio State's student government and was elected to the state Senate at age 26. Four years later, he ran for Congress and won against an incumbent Democrat.

He's known for the work he's done balancing budgets. He touts his budget record often, stating that in Ohio, he "turn[ed] an $8 billion shortfall into a $2 billion surplus, cut taxes [by] $5 billion and [made] Ohio one of the top job-creating states in the nation."

But The Times and others have declared that he exaggerates or misrepresents his budget accomplishments.

Kasich has claimed that "he was the chief architect of the balanced budget in the 1990s," but, as The Times reported: "While it is true that Kasich was at that time the chairman of the House Budget Committee, most economists say the surpluses of the 1990s were because of a combination of three factors: The 'read my lips' tax increases and spending cuts of President George Bush in 1991; President Bill Clinton's budget of 1993, which most likely cost Democrats control of Congress; and the gold rush economy of the dot-com bubble."

He took a shot at the White House in 2000, but dropped out quickly. He then left Congress in 2001 and hosted a Fox News show called "Heartland with John Kasich." It ran from 2001 until 2007.

While he's made his career in Ohio, Kasich is originally from a town outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has often touted his backstory on the campaign trail, talking about his working-class roots as the son of a mailman.

Despite both of his parents' backgrounds as Democrats, Kasich developed conservative roots when he became active in the Catholic Church, according to an overview of his upbringing in The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Kasich might be hoping that the momentum from his New Hampshire finish will put him in a strong place in South Carolina. But he's polling at only 4% nationally and a meager 2% in South Carolina.

He'll spend a lot of time in the Palmetto State between now and February 20 to try to bring those numbers up.

"They warned me when I was coming down here, 'You're going to South Carolina and they're really conservative down there,'" Kasich said Wednesday. "And I'm like, wait a minute. People are people. We all have the same concerns."

Look back at Kasich through his career:

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John Kasich through his career
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Meet the understated governor shaking up the presidential race
MT. PLEASANT, SC - FEBRUARY 10: Republican presidential candidate John Kasich talks to an overflow crowd outside of Finn's Brick Oven Pizza February 10, 2016 in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. The South Carolina Republican primary will be held Saturday, February 20. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
11/3/95 - Rep. John R. Kasich (R-OH), seated 2nd from left, and Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-NM) in the dark suit standing, go over their response to President Clinton's radio address just prior to recording the radio broadcast in the Senate studio. Kasich was casually dressed as the House was out of session for the weekend. (Photo by Robert A. Reeder/The Washington Post/Getty Images)
House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio, holds the Republican budget plan during a debate with Budget Director Alice Rivlin, Thursday Oct. 19, 1995 at the National Press Club in Washington. Kasich said that the Republicans have a deal to balance the budget in seven years and will not wait to balance any longer. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)
House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio, points to his head during a Capitol Hill news conference Thursday Nov. 16, 1995 to discuss the federal budget impasse. Earlier, President Clinton pledged to veto the latest Republican attempt to end the three-day-old partial federal shutdown, dismissing the GOP measure as "an exercise of political power." (AP Photo/Doug Mills)
U.S. Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio, flashes the victory sign as he walks with his new bride, Karen Waldbillig, down the steps of St. John's Episcopal Church in Worthington, Ohio, after the couple exchanged wedding vows Saturday, March 22, 1997. Kasich and Waldbillig, who had been dating for eight years, plan to build a home in Delaware County. (AP Photo/Elizabeth Ellis)
D:\BOB\budget3.tif - slug: NA/BUDGET date: May 2, 1997 photog: Robert A. Reeder TWP The Rotunda of the Capitol description: GOP happy with their signed budget John R. Kasich (R-OH) is having a particularly good time during the GOP announcement of a new budget in the Rotunda of the Capitol. In front of him is Speaker Newt Gingrich. (Photo by Robert A. Reeder/The Washington Post/Getty Images)
Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio, left, shakes hands with Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., during the announcement of the budget Friday, May 2, 1997, at the Capitol. Trading combat for compromise, President Clinton and Republican congressional leaders announced agreement Friday on a plan to balance the budget while bestowing tax breaks on families, investors and students. (AP Photo/Joe Marquette)
As his wife Karen, left, watches, U.S. Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio, stops in for a haircut by Joe Swiezynski in Milford, N.H. Monday Feb. 15, 1999. Kashich is on a two-day campaign swing through New Hampshire seeking support for his presidential bid in the nation's earliest presidential priamry scheduled for about a year from now. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Presidential hopeful Sen. John Kasich, R-Ohio, center, rides a dog sled Sunday, March 14, 1999, on Lake Winnepesaukee in Laconia, N.H. Kasich participated in the World Championship Sled Dog Derby award ceremony and is in the state looking for support for his run for president in 2000. (AP Photo/Joel Page)
John Kasich, Republican Congressman from Ohio and presidential hopeful, makes a point during an interview on a stop on a campaign swing through Los Angeles on Tuesday, March 30, 1999. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio, warms up before a celebrity softball game Saturday, July 3, 1999, in Dyersville, Iowa. Kasich and fellow presidential hopeful Bill Bradley were part of a unique mix of baseball and politics, as presidential candidates and Hall of Fame legends took up the cause of a disgraced player who died nearly 50 years ago. Nostalgia and baseballs filled the air in a city put on the map by the movie ``Field of Dreams,'' which was about a fantasy baseball game involving Shoeless Joe Jackson. (AP Photo/Rodney White)
P 350430 022 2May99 Manchester, Nh John Kasich (R-Oh), At The First-In-The-Nation Primary Kick-Off Weekend. (Photo By Jonathan Elderfield/Getty Images)
Republican presidential hopeful, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, left, and Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio, sport Bush baseball caps during a news conference in Washington Wednesday July 14, 1999 where Kasich announced he would end his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination and endorse Bush. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)
ADVANCE FOR SUNDAY NOV. 5--With the Washington Monument in the background, retiring Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio poses on Capitol Hill Thursday, Oct. 19, 2000. (AP Photo/Stephen J. Boitano)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 02: HOUSE ARMED SERVICES--John R. Kasich, R-Ohio, and Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., talk during House Armed Services Committee hearing on the president's fiscal year 2000 defence budget authorization budget request. (Photo by Douglas Graham/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
Former Ohio congressman John Kasich attends the Republican National Convention at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, Wednesday, September 3, 2008. (Photo by Harry E. Walker/MCT/MCT via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC- Dec. 01: Governor-elect John Kasich, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, during a news conference after their meeting with other Republican members and governors-elect. Boehner is the presumed House Speaker for the 112th Congress. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
John Kasich, governor of Ohio, speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for the Cleveland Medical Mart and Convention Center in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., on Friday, Jan. 14, 2011. The Cleveland Medical Mart and Convention Center will include a 100,000 square foot medical mart and an adjoining convention center with 230,000 square feet of exhibit hall space. The facility is expected to open in September 2013. Photographer: David Maxwell/Bloomberg via Getty Images
COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 30: Ohio Governor John Kasich works long hours with staff on his new budget proposal at his office, in the Ohio State House office, Columbus, Ohio, Wednesday, March 30, 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)
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)
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 28: Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks at the 2012 Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. (Photo By Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call)
COLUMBUS, OHIO - JULY 21: Ohio Governor John Kasich gives his speech announcing his 2016 Presidential candidacy at the Ohio Student Union, at The Ohio State University on July 21, 2015 in Columbus, Ohio. Kasich became the 16th candidate to officially enter the race for the Republican presidential nomination. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
CONCORD, NH - FEBRUARY 09: Republican presidential candidate Ohio Governor John Kasich waves to the crowd after speaking at a campaign gathering with supporters upon placing second place in the New Hampshire republican primary on February 9, 2016 in Concord, New Hampshire. Kasich lost the Republican primary to Donald Trump, though he upset fellow Republican governors Chris Christie and former Governor Jeb Bush. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
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