UTICA, Mich. (AP) — As his rivals focused on South Carolina's looming primary, Republican presidential candidate John Kasich campaigned across Michigan on Monday, plugging his blue-collar roots and warning college students that the U.S. is "not a socialist country."
The Ohio governor has visited adjacent Michigan more than any candidate from either party.
"I got to do well up here," he implored a crowd of hundreds at an evening town hall event in Utica, in Macomb County north of Detroit.
Kasich, who enjoyed larger crowds than when he visited last year, earlier held similar events at two Michigan universities. He decried the increasingly nasty nature of the GOP race and said he would "do my level best to raise the bar in politics and my level best to make sure that not just one group in our country rises but everybody has a chance to live out their God-given potential and their purpose in life."
Democratic contender Bernie Sanders, who has called for tuition-free college, also was in Michigan on Tuesday.
"I'm not giving out free college," Kasich joked to students at Michigan State University, later adding that schools' spending must be contained and some of their assets privatized. Students should be able to earn college credits in high school to save money, he said.
Kasich also said to loud applause: "You got to be discriminating. I mean frankly you got to understand the very nature of our economic system. We are a free-enterprise system that has a set of values connected to it. We're not a socialist country."
South Carolina — whose primary is Saturday — is not natural turf for Kasich, who supports expanding Medicaid and opposes deporting people living in the country illegally. When a small business owner in Utica bemoaned his rising medical premiums, Kasich said he would fight to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law but also prevent millions of working poor from losing their insurance.
He downplayed the risk of focusing on Michigan's March 8 primary at the expense of other states, saying "I've got to go where I think is the most fertile ground." He said Michigan and Ohio are "like two different sides to the same coin" and Michigan is a "really, really important state" for his campaign.
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