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Eye On Candidates
September 4, 2015

Scott Walker’s Tough Summer

This weekend marks the unofficial end of summer, prompting Politico to ask its panel of Iowa and New Hampshire political insiders which candidate had the worst summer. The answer, according to the insiders, was Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker:

Insiders: Scott Walker the biggest loser of the summer

It's been a cruel summer for Scott Walker … nearly half of GOP insiders said Walker, the Wisconsin governor, had the worst summer on their side of the aisle. In Iowa, where he was until recently considered the front-runner but now lags in polls, insiders were particularly down on him: 56 percent said he had lost the summer.

"He can't seem to find his way on any given issue with a handheld GPS," an Iowa Republican said of Walker. "He's been on all three sides of every two-sided issue. For the last two months hasn't made a single policy pronouncement that he or his staff hasn't had to clarify or clear up within two hours. When you're reduced to saying 'yeah' doesn't mean 'yes,' you're in trouble. 'Unintimidated' has given way to 'uninformed' and 'unprepared.'"

The GOP insiders' criticism of Walker was rooted in the sense that his positions on a number of policy issues, from immigration to abortion, have shifted repeatedly, and that he has recently attempted to pander to Donald Trump voters.

Walker’s summer didn’t seem quite so bad to the New Hampshire insiders, but he still led the way there in terms of how he was viewed:

Among New Hampshire Republicans, Walker wasn't so clearly considered the biggest loser — about 40 percent called him that, compared to one-third who gave Jeb Bush that designation. Still, Walker left Granite Staters unimpressed.

"He's lost his lead in the make or break Iowa caucuses. He has alienated donors with his pandering to the base of the party. He is woefully unprepared in interviews. He has cemented his reputation as a shameless flip-flopper, and worst of all he has raised questions about if he is actually smart enough to run for president," said a New Hampshire Republican.

"Forgettable in the debate, mind-numbing acrobatic answers to issues of the day — he has become not ready for prime time," agreed another.

The low marks for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush largely stem from the perception he has failed to live up to expectations:

Those who pointed to Bush, who came in second place for having the worst summer according to New Hampshire Republicans, said he has been underwhelming despite enormous fundraising hauls.

"Bush hasn't even been able to generate a spark among voters — or even his own supporters. Unless that changes, he is headed for disaster," a New Hampshire Republican said.

Another added that Bush is no longer running "joyfully," as he once promised he would.

"The happy tortoise has become the angry badger, and it doesn't sit well," the Granite State Republican said.

Walker’s poll numbers aren’t just lagging in Iowa, according to The Hill:

Scott Walker is in freefall, falling into 8th place with only 3 percent support. The Wisconsin governor was in third place with 11 percent support in the same poll from before the first Republican debate.

Political pundit S.E. Cupp at CNN had an interesting column earlier this week on Walker’s seeming fall from the top tier of candidates, reporting that the Wisconsin governor’s campaign still feels good about his position in the race at the moment:

For one, they like Walker's numbers, in particular two sets of them: his favorables and his unknowns, both of which are high.

In the Des Moines Register poll he's one of only two candidates to have favorables above 70, and, polls show there are large numbers of voters who aren't familiar with Walker….

The Walker camp is also quick to tamp down expectations, which they say they never raised in the first place.

"We never thought it was sustainable to stay at 30% in Iowa for 15 months. We always knew things would move around."

Cupp’s article and the Walker campaign staff she spoke with make some reasonable points, as it’s clear there is a lot of fluidity in the race with few people having settled on any particular candidate yet (she points to a Des Moines Register poll showing only 15 percent have made up their minds on whom to support in the caucuses). Walker is also fortunate enough that, despite his recent slide in support, he’s almost certainly going to have the funds needed to climb back into the top tier. But that climbing probably needs to start sooner rather than later.