COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Ohio Gov. John Kasich on Monday landed the endorsement of fellow governor Robert Bentley of Alabama, as the presidential hopeful seeks to build support for his White House bid and courts voters in the South.
Later in the day, Kasich became the third candidate to officially file for South Carolina's 2016 Republican primary, the first contest in the South on Feb. 20.
At the endorsement, announced Monday at the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in Birmingham, Bentley said Kasich has the executive level experience and background necessary to lead.
"I have watched him over the years and I chose him because of his heart," Bentley said, adding that he believes the two have similar approaches toward governing.
Kasich said Bentley has made Alabama's state government more efficient and isn't afraid to lead. Alabama faces a $200 million general fund budget shortfall that lawmakers will again face during a second special session.
Bentley is the first Deep South governor to endorse Kasich, who is generally viewed as being among the more moderate Republican contenders. Kasich said he didn't spend time during his term as governor building broader name recognition and that he thinks an endorsement from Bentley — a past supporter of and delegate for Mike Huckabee — will go a long way.
"It sends a signal in the South," Kasich said before pledging to return to Alabama. "It makes a big difference. Think of us as the engine that could."
The two traded autographed footballs after speaking.
Kasich entered the race less than a month ago. But he's building momentum off a strong showing at the first GOP presidential debate in Cleveland and has been upping his profile in early voting South Carolina, with more than half a dozen stops in recent months.
As he filed his candidacy papers later Monday in Columbia, Kasich blamed gridlock in Washington — where he served nine terms in the U.S. House — for partisan stalemates on a variety of issues, particularly immigration reform, which he called "one of those issues that we have been unable to fix because of infighting."
Associated Press writer Phillip Lucas contributed to this report from Birmingham, Alabama.
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