COLUMBIA. SC — Republican presidential candidate John Kasich championed compassionate conservatism Friday as the direction the nation should take.

“When we have economic growth, we need to reach to people in the shadows,” the Ohio governor told about 75 members of the S.C. Chamber of Commerce.

That means making aid for people, including the mentally troubled and the poor in need of health care, part of the American mission, said Kasich, whose campaign is seeking to build on momentum from his second-place finish in the New Hampshire primary.

Kasich is stumping across South Carolina to rally support for his White House bid prior to the state’s GOP Feb. 20 primary ballot.

He said he wants voters to “see me, poke me, smell me, see what they think” as his campaign ups its presence here through ads and appearances.

Kasich urged the executives to hire the developmentally disabled, saying “we want to help them rise,” socially and economically.

But federal oversight of areas such as education and job training should be turned over to states “to drive creativity, innovation and change,” Kasich said. Governors and other state leaders can’t be “scared-y cats” when put in charge of those services, he added.

Economic growth requires less federal spending, lower taxes and fewer rules hindering business, he said at the chamber session.

Doing that also demands less partisan strife paralyzing Congress, he said.

“We can’t seem to fix anything and people around the world are wondering: ‘What’s happening in America?’ ” said Kasich, a former U.S. House member. “In Washington, we’re poisoning all the wells.”

He also promised selective improvements in military strength, focusing on unspecified enhancements that upgrade defense efficiently.

Kasich’s themes resonated with some executives at the chamber gathering.

“He’s a straight talker,” said Allan Stalvey, executive vice president of the S.C. Hospital Association. “That’s what’s so refreshing.”

College graduates and older workers both need improved job security that provides social stability, Kasich said in a separate meeting with the editorial board of The State newspaper.

“I don’t find angry people,” he said, describing the mood of voters. “I find concerned people.”

He pledged to work with all sides, calling the GOP “my vehicle and not my master.”

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