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Eye On Candidates
July 13, 2015

Scott Walker Enters GOP Nomination Fight

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has officially announced he will run for president in 2016, releasing a video this morning according to Politico. A more formal announcement event will be held this afternoon in Waukesha, Wis.:

Scott Walker: 'I'm in'

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is running for president.

In a video shared by his campaign on Monday, Walker touted his experience as a conservative governor in a blue state against his GOP rivals in Washington, D.C.

“America needs new, fresh leadership with big, bold ideas from outside of Washington to actually get things done,” Walker says in the 89-second spot. “In Wisconsin, we didn’t nibble around the edges. We enacted big, bold reforms that took power out of the hands of the big government special interests and gave it to the hard-working taxpayers — and people’s lives are better because of it.”

While the Republican field is crowded and many of the contenders are struggling for attention, Walker starts out in the top tier:

Walker is currently polling second to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the latest Real Clear Politics polling average, garnering 10.5 percent to Bush’s 16.3 percent — though he is leading the GOP field in Iowa, a state that is critical to his presidential hopes...

The governor is considered the frontrunner in the Hawkeye State, leading Bush 18 percent to 12 percent, according to the latest survey conducted by We Ask America. More than 80 percent of Republican insiders in Iowa told POLITICO last week that Walker would win the caucuses if they were held now.

As of last week, Walker was said to have raised nearly $30 million for his presidential bid, putting him behind Bush, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the Republican primary money race...

The New York Times offers its customary feature "What [Candidate] Would Need to Do to Win," and provides some interesting analysis on Walker's chances:

The Coalition - Mr. Walker is aiming to be the candidate who appeals to the largest portion of Republican primary voters, a reflection of the fact that he does not have a single strong base of supporters. He believes he can win votes across important blocs: establishment Republicans like state and county officials who like his record of tax cuts, pension overhauls and union busting in Wisconsin; conservatives who want a governor to become president and will be drawn to his strong support of charter schools and Israel, as well as his tough talk on national security; evangelicals who will respond to him as the son of a minister and as a supporter of amending the United States Constitution to allow states to define marriage; and Tea Party activists who share his determination to transfer as much federal power as possible to state and local governments. The risk is that when your potential political coalition is spread out, it is hard to count on any one part of it showing up to vote.

Why He Will Win - No Republican presidential candidate has carried Wisconsin since 1984, while Mr. Walker has been elected governor three times, as he likes to point out. He believes he will attract Republicans, independents and conservative Democrats with his brand of plain-spoken, tough-sounding talk — much as his idol, Ronald Reagan, did. His Midwestern appeal would expand the electoral map for Republicans, giving them an edge in critical states like Ohio and Pennsylvania as well as his own. And as a two-term governor, a Washington outsider and a fresh face, he would contrast favorably with Hillary Rodham Clinton should she win the Democratic nomination. Even Democrats in Wisconsin admit they underestimated Mr. Walker’s political talent and popularity, given that he survived a nationally financed effort by unions and Democrats to recall him from office in 2012...

Nate Cohn, also in The New York Times, offers some insights on how Walker got to where he's at in the race:

Scott Walker’s rapid but unsurprising rise to the top of the Republican pack was perhaps the clearest example during the first half of the primary season of the importance of fundamentals: factors that shape the outcome of the race from the very start, like the amount of support from party elites and the potential to build a broad coalition. His ability to appeal to conservatives — thanks to his high-profile fight against organized labor in Wisconsin — without alienating the rest of the party instantly made him a formidable contender...

The combination of Mr. Walker’s advantage in Iowa, his broad acceptability and his fund-raising potential gives him perhaps the clearest path to the nomination of any Republican candidate...

But Cohn also suggests Walker's early performance has shown some vulnerabilities:

Mr. Walker... has nonetheless raised doubts about his preparedness for a presidential campaign.

Early on, he “punted” on questions about evolution; he said he did not know whether President Obama was a Christian; he argued that his experience facing down protesters in Madison prepared him to defeat the Islamic State; and he quickly shifted positions on ethanol and immigration to comport with the preferences of Iowa voters.

More recently, Mr. Walker has struggled to find the right balance between appealing to the party’s conservative base and the rest of the party, particularly electability-minded donors. He called the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage a “grave mistake” and continues to support a constitutional amendment to allow states to ban same-sex marriage. That, along with his moves on immigration and ethanol, raised concerns among many party elites, as my colleagues Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman have reported.

These doubts are not limited to the party’s moderates. Tom Coburn, the former senator from Oklahoma, said Mr. Walker “might not be ready for prime time.” Mike Lee, a senator from Utah, said he was “doubtful” about Mr. Walker before meeting him. Mr. Lee apparently came away impressed, but the initial expectation may be the better indicator of his reputational challenge...

Cohn's conclusion is that Walker has a fairly clear path to the nomination if he can avoid mistakes that make him look unprepared for the White House. Like every candidate, Walker has his shortcomings, but to date they don't appear to have hindered his rise to the top tier of the Republican field.