CINCINNATI -- It was going to be a tricky speech anyway.
But in the aftermath of another day of violence that unsettled an already emotionally charged nation, Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s speech to the NAACP Annual Convention on Sunday evening took on a new importance.
As Kasich took the stage at the Duke Energy Convention Center, NAACP leaders announced that a police officer in Milwaukee had also been shot on Sunday. This comes on the same day as the shooting deaths of three Baton Rouge law enforcement officers, and the wounding of three others.
“The Lord wants us to heal. The Lord wants us to work together,” Kasich said. “The Lord doesn’t want violence. He wants understanding.”
He urged the NAACP to take meaningful action this week in the wake of violence, and to keep in mind “what the Lord wants from each of us.”
“This organization is going to be watched very carefully,” Kasich said. “It’s going to matter what you say. It’s going to be written about.”
Kasich relied heavily on spiritual themes, as he called for civility and inclusiveness and overcoming differences. And when he left the stage after a 10-minute speech, many in the crowd gave him a standing ovation.
His tone was reminiscent of his failed Republican primary presidential campaign.
“What we tried to do in Ohio … is we built a team that realized every human being is made in the image of our Lord and deserves respect and deserves opportunity,” Kasich said.
He touted Medicaid expansion, criminal justice reform and making minority business contracts a priority in Ohio, which drew enthusiastic applause from crowd.
But the recent violence seemed to weigh the heaviest on the minds of NAACP leaders and the some 2,000 attendees.
“We’ve come back to Cincinnati at a time when our nation is in a bit of turmoil,” said Leon Russel, vice chairman of the NAACP national board of directors. “We need to reflect on what this association needs to do to fulfill its vision and mission of a society free from discrimination and the impact of prejudice.”
As Rev. Damon Lynch III said during his opening prayer: “Lord, the land needs healing from sea to shining sea. “
Kasich is the first of many political leaders who will take the stage at the NAACP convention this week. Democratic presumptive presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is set to speak at 11:30 a.m. Monday.
But notably absent is Republican presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump, who declined the invitation, to the dismay and irritation of black leaders.
Yet Kasich made the opposite choice – he accepted the NAACP invitation but declined to attend the RNC, which begins on Monday in Cleveland.
“It’s definitely a snub to Trump, but the real snub is choosing not to go to the convention (RNC),” said Jared Kamrass, a principal at political consulting firm Rivertown Strategies in Cincinnati.
“Its definitely symbolic of very different approaches for the future of the Republican party,” Kamrass said. “The RNC in Cleveland will feature a lot of divisive and unproductive rhetoric … the NAACP convention gives RNC office holders an opportunity to try and expand the tent for the party.”
Those who know Kasich best, such as Republican strategist Charles "Chip" Gerhardt III, expected this type of speech from him.
“John Kasich understands that diversity is a strength and that different points of view actually should make us better,” said Gerhardt, founder and president of Government Strategies Group in Cincinnati. “Given the events of the last two weeks, he will focus on unity and working together and strengthened diversity and the importance of figuring this out together.”
Gerhardt, who is in Cleveland for the RNC, didn’t think it was unusual for Kasich not to attend the GOP gathering.
“This is exactly the right way he should start his week … at the NAACP convention,” Gerhardt said.
And Kasich may be looking at his political future.
“I think he certainly wants to leave the door open for a run in 2020,” Kamrass said.