Wisconsin’s Scott Walker Could Be a Contender
Policy + Politics

Wisconsin’s Scott Walker Could Be a Contender

When Mitt Romney announced on Friday that he would not make another run at the White house, he was a little vague about who he thought the Republicans ought to nominate. But it was clear that he thought it was time for the old guard, himself included, to give way to the new.

“I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well-known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee. In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case.”

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About an hour after Romney delivered his statement, someone who fit that description took the podium at the conservative American Action Forum just a few blocks from the White House in Washington and began making his case for the presidency.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who won three elections in the space of four years after beating an unsuccessful recall vote in the middle of his first term, was fresh off an appearance at the Freedom Forum - a gathering of conservative leaders in the early presidential primary state of Iowa. A relative unknown compared to some of the big guns in attendance, Walker nonetheless made a significant impression on the crowd, stealing some of the spotlight from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and other conservative favorites.

That morning, Public Policy Polling released a new poll showing that Walker’s stock among voters appears to be on the rise.

“The biggest winner has to be Scott Walker,” PPP found. “His 11 percent standing appears to be the first time he's registered at double digits in a national poll. He's reached that level of support despite having the lowest name recognition of any candidate we tested, which is a pretty good indication that when voters get to know him they're coming to like him… Things are headed in the right direction for Walker.”

(Update: After this article was published, Walker got an additional bit of good news. In a poll of Iowa voters conducted by Bloomberg Politics and The Des Moines Register, Walker led the large pack of Republican presidential hopefuls with 15 percent of the vote. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) came in second, with 14 points, and former Massachusetts governor and 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romeny was third with 13 points. Romney announced his withdrawal from the race on Friday, and when pollsters reallocated votes, giving Romney's votes to the candidates chosen second by his supporters, Walker's total jumped to 16 percent, and Paul's to 15 percent.)

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Of course, what sells in a small room full of hard-core Iowa conservatives might not do quite as well when offered to the country at large – something Walker will have to find out over the coming months as he takes his act on the road.

At the American Action Forum on Friday, his remarks had the flavor of someone who knows that if he checks off all the right boxes, he can get a good sendoff from a roomful of Republicans.

  • He checked the “Washington’s out of touch” box: “I like to call it 68 square miles surrounded by reality. In many ways, there’s a big difference between Washington and the rest of the country.”

  • He checked the “values” box: “I learned early the value of hard work. I was a dishwasher…I flipped hamburgers at McDonalds.” 

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  • He checked the “vision” box: “What I see in the states and from the people in this country outside of Washington is a craving for something new, for something fresh, for something dynamic that says instead of the top-down government-knows-best approach that we’ve seen too long in Washington, we want something that’s built up with big bold ideas from not only states but from local communities all across this country.”
  • And of course, he checked the all-important “Reagan” box: “I’m reminded about one of my favorite sayings from President Reagan…‘All of us need to be reminded that the Federal Government did not create the States; the States created the Federal Government.’”

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Walker touted some of his successes in Wisconsin, including his successful effort to reduce the employment protections enjoyed by public school teachers, and his transformation of the social safety net system to require recipients of government assistance to work toward eventual employment.

Oddly, he described services to low-income individuals in language almost identical to that of a statement that got his fellow Wisconsinite, Rep. Paul Ryan, in trouble a few years ago. He said that public assistance must be “a safety net that you bounce out of, not a hammock that you stay in.” 

Walker is a proven winner in a traditionally Democratic state, and while not the most dynamic speaker, he proved in the last week that he can deliver the goods - at least in front of a friendly crowd. Walker has also announced the formation of a presidential exploratory committee, and last week told the press that he is planning to travel to a number of states that hold early primary elections. 

Whether or not his message resonates with voters nationally as well as it has in Wisconsin will be the factor that determined whether Walker is the candidate Mitt Romney envisions stepping out of his shadow.

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