He has written a campaign-themed book and visited Iowa, New
Hampshire and other pivotal election-year states. He has stumped for
candidates nationwide. He even has criticized conservatives who
challenge moderate incumbents, pleasing party elders.
With a growing pre-presidential checklist, it is little wonder
Walker is beginning to emerge as a top-tier candidate in a
potentially crowded field in 2016. But first, he must win a tough
reelection race in 2014, against Democratic businesswoman Mary
Burke, his only announced opponent.
"Walker is working his way down the presidential to-do list," said
Mordecai Lee, a political science professor at the University of
Wisconsin in Milwaukee. "He's doing the formula to a 'T'."
He is hardly alone. Besides Christie, other Republican White House
aspirants include two U.S. Senators, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco
Rubio of Florida. Others are expected to join in, possibly including
Ted Cruz, the Texas tea party favorite, or another governor, such as
Rick Perry, also of Texas. None of them have officially declared
their candidacy as yet.
Still, a Walker run would face big hurdles. He is little known
outside conservative circles and is seen as lacking charisma. He has
not shown an ability to raise the funds needed to compete against
Christie or another widely backed opponent.
If Walker made it to the general election, Republican strategists
say, Democrats would hammer him on his record, including his backing
of a 2011 bill that curtailed collective bargaining rights of
public-sector workers and support for a 2013 law requiring women
seeking abortions to first have an ultrasound.
Despite those weaknesses, University of Virginia political scientist
Larry Sabato has Walker as the top potential 2016 GOP contender in
his closely followed Crystal Ball website.
"Walker has a lot to prove, but he looks good on paper," said
Crystal Ball managing editor Kyle Kondik. "There are a lot of
questions about how he will perform as a national candidate."
None of the conjecture will matter unless Walker first beats Burke
in Wisconsin's 2014 gubernatorial contest. A Marquette University
Law School poll of registered voters last October showed the
candidates in a virtual dead heat, with 47 percent of respondents
favoring Walker and 45 percent for Burke. But Burke may have room to
build support, with 70 percent of those polled stating they do not
yet have an opinion about her.
Walker, by contrast, is polarizing. Fifty percent of those polled
view him favorably, 47 percent unfavorably, and only 4 percent have
neither a favorable or unfavorable view of him.
Walker is best known nationally for turning back a recall vote in
2012 after his battle with the state employee unions. His
surprisingly strong 53 percent to 46 percent margin against a
well-organized union effort won him followers among conservatives
The recall campaign also helped Walker build a national fundraising
apparatus that could prove helpful in the 2014 election and beyond.
He raised $37 million to defeat the recall, a substantial figure for
a Wisconsin candidate, and as of last June had $2.26 million cash on
hand for his campaign. The figure will be updated on January 31.
For Wisconsin voters who know him well, Walker's governance record
is mixed. Walker has earned a reputation as a fiscal hawk, posting a
$911 million budget surplus last year after inheriting a budget
deficit upon taking office three years ago. And he aims to funnel
most of the surplus to residents through tax breaks he dubs a
Blueprint for Prosperity.
"Our reforms are helping the people of Wisconsin create more jobs
and more opportunity," the governor said in his January 22 State of
the State speech.
But the progress on jobs is far short of what Walker promised during
his 2010 election campaign. Walker said he would create 250,000 jobs
in his first term, but government data show only around 40,000 more
people have jobs today than when he took office. Wisconsin ranked
37th among the U.S. states in private-sector job creation in the
year ending June 2013, the last period for which data are available.
Burke is expected to challenge Walker on the jobs issue. A former
Trek Bicycle executive, and daughter of the company's founder, Burke
has a business background that could appeal to moderate Republicans
and an emphasis on education and women's access to healthcare that
should play well with Democrats.
Burke also is positioning herself as a salve to the tempestuous
Walker years. "Wisconsinites don't appreciate the divisiveness of
the governor," she told Reuters in an interview.
[to top of second column]
In many respects, the campaign could shape up as a referendum on
"We're seeing incredible grassroots support for
getting rid of Scott Walker," said Lisa Subeck, executive director
of United Wisconsin, a liberal group that worked to recall Walker in
2012. United Wisconsin's website features a "Scott-Free 2014"
fundraising button on its home page.
John Binder, an independent voter in central Wisconsin, is no fan of
unions but says Walker has been too aggressive.
"We're not used to scorched-earth politics around here," he said.
"I'm not sure I want four more years of Walker."
To win, Walker will need to mobilize conservatives who rallied
around him in 2010 and again during the recall vote.
Some conservatives may be disappointed Walker did not fight harder
against federally imposed education standards, said Matt Batzel,
state director for American Majority Action, which provides training
for local activists.
"But conservatives will rally around Walker when the left-wing
attacks begin," Batzel said.
The University of Wisconsin's Lee said the few voters with no
opinion on Walker will be key to victory in November .
"Walker is the presumptive frontrunner," Lee said. "But it will by
no means be a slam-dunk."
If Walker does win re-election in November, he would need to quickly
change gears and make his way into a national contest dominated so
far by Christie.
Walker has indicated he is eyeing a White House run. The book he
published after the recall vote — "Unintimidated: A Governor's Story
and a Nation's Challenge" — sought to position him on the national
stage. And when the Washington Post inquired about his ambitions at
a March 2013 conservative conference, he allowed that some day
"we'll take a look at" a White House bid.
Walker and Christie have one point in common: They both are
Republican governors in states where Barack Obama won in 2012. But
with that, their similarities end.
Christie is moderate, charismatic and a powerful national
fundraiser. Walker lacks Christie's pugnacious style, and though he
raised money nationally in defeating the recall, he has not proven
he could do so for a national campaign.
Still, those who believe in Walker's prospects say the recall trial
is what gave him a shot at a presidential bid. In defeating
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in the recall, Walker showed he can turn
back a national Democratic effort to defeat him, according to the
Crystal Ball's Kondik.
"In many ways Walker is a Democratic creation," Kondik said.
"Without all the Democratic opposition to him, he wouldn't have the
The University of Wisconsin's Lee said a key Walker strength is his
discipline in sticking with an economic message. He has signed
socially conservative legislation, but on the stump avoids social
issues that can trip up conservatives during general-election races.
"Scott Walker can stay on message all day," Lee said. He "is the
closest thing out there to the Tea Party's dream candidate, but can
present himself in a way that doesn't make him seem like a Tea Party
Republican strategist Ford O'Connell says Walker will need to hone
his campaigning skills. But his conservative credentials make him
the "GOP dark horse candidate in 2016."
(Editing by David Greising and David Gregorio)
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