By Darrel Rowland

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley is expected to endorse John Kasich for president this morning, a move that the Ohio governor's supporters say illustrates three key facts:

  • Kasich's strength stretches beyond his home state and the nation's first primary state, New Hampshire, where he has targeted his campaign.
  • Landing backing from a Deep South governor who was a delegate for ex-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee underscores Kasich's support beyond the moderate wing of the Republican Party.
  • The fact that Bentley approached Kasich, and not the other way around, shows that political leaders across the country are taking notice of his campaign.
The Bentley endorsement is the "major announcement" the Kasich campaign announced late last week for 10 this morning in Birmingham, Ala. Kasich then will fly to Columbia, S.C., to officially file for that state's GOP presidential primary next February, and to Myrtle Beach for an in-depth discussion on U.S. defense issues in a state where military issues are highly important.

It will be the second key endorsement for Kasich in the past several days. Last week, former New Hampshire Attorney General Tom Rath -- one of the state's leading political strategists, who served on the national campaigns of George W. Bush, Mitt Romney and others -- joined the Kasich effort. Previously most of Kasich's team had consisted of alumni from Bush's 2000 rival, Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Few other governors have issued an endorsement for the 2016 contest, although a couple are backing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who helped many GOP gubernatorial candidates last year as head of the Republican Governors Association.

Bentley, 72, himself was mentioned by The Washington Post as a possible presidential prospect because of the strength he has displayed in Alabama; his statewide margins were the largest for a Republican in modern state history. A dermatologist, former U.S. Air Force captain and eight-year state legislator representing Tuscaloosa, the University of Alabama grad was elected governor in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. He pledged to not take a salary until the state's unemployment fell to at least 5.2 percent; so far, with rate still above 6 percent, he has not collected a gubernatorial paycheck.

He is against Planned Parenthood funding, tweeting on Saturday: "I will not let AL taxpayer money fund an org. that talks about crushing the heads of an unborn baby." Shortly after becoming governor Bentley signed one of the country's toughest immigration laws; last summer he was among several governors who signed a letter to President Barack Obama expressing concern over his moves on undocumented immigrants.

Last week he lamented the failure of the Alabama legislature to pass a budget during its first special session. Last month he testified in Congress about legislation he signed earlier this year to revamp the state's prison system, reducing the population by 4,200 inmates.

(c)2015 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)