If Walker wins in Wisconsin, the White House could be next

Campaign 2016
by Nick Eicher
Posted 10/29/14, 03:00 pm

This article is the 15th in the White House Wednesday series by The World and Everything in It looking at potential 2016 candidates for president. Earlier installments profiled Republicans Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee, and Democrats Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Andrew Cuomo, Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, and Bernie Sanders.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has become a conservative hero within the GOP for taking on big labor in his home state. He’s long been thought of as a serious presidential contender.

Late last year, he fueled speculation that he might be eyeing a White House bid. Speaking on ABC’s This Week, he answered a question about what characteristics the next Republican nominee ought to have. Walker offered a description that sounded a little like his ownbio: “I think both the presidential and the vice-presidential nominee should be either a former or current governor, people who have done successful things in their states, who have taken on big reforms.”

But before he can think about 2016, he has to survive Tuesday, politically speaking. Walker is locked in one of the tightest governor’s races in the nation. His Democratic challenger is businesswoman Mary Burke.

No governor in the nation has had to fight as hard as Walker to keep the job. He was elected in 2010 as part of a Republican wave that also swept out an incumbent Democratic senator in Wisconsin and flipped control of the state’s legislature from Democrat to Republican.

Walker had been on the job a little more than a year when opponents launched an unprecedented recall effort and gathered enough signatures to force a special gubernatorial recall election. Fueling the uprising was a controversial provision in a sweeping budget reform bill the governor signed into law in 2011. 

The Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill was an effort by Walker and Republican lawmakers in the state to address a projected $3.6 billion shortfall. The bill required public employees to contribute more money toward their own pensions and health benefits. It also curtailed the right of most public employees except police and firefighters to bargain collectively for their benefits. Liberal activists reviled him and compared him to Hitler and Osama Bin Laden on protest signs. The governor and his family even received death threats. 

But Walker survived the recall election, defeating Democrat Tom Barrett by a 7-point margin. That vote marked just the third time in U.S. history that a governor had stood for recall, and it was the first time a governor had ever wona recall election. 

On Tuesday, Walker could become the first governor ever elected three times in four years. If the election goes Walker’s way once again, he could join the GOP field for 2016 as a candidate who is well-liked within the conservative base of the party.  He’s battle-tested and unlikely to wither on the national stage. 

Walker does not have a college degree, which might be used to question whether he’s qualified to be president. But he also might be the only high-profile Republican who could appeal to both the establishment and tea party wings of the GOP. 

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., might also fit that description, but his role in crafting the Senate immigration bill really hurt him with Tea Party voters. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is a hero on the firm right, but establishment Republicans soured on him after the government shutdown. And many conservatives say that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie aren’t conservative enough. Scott Walker has broad appeal, and he might be well positioned for 2016, assuming he first survives Tuesday’s election and then decides to run for president.

And the race can’t get any closer. In five polls of likely voters in Wisconsin released this month, two had Walker up by 1 point, two had Burke up by 1 point, and the fifth poll had the race exactly tied. Right now, it is the very definition of a dead heat.

Listen to Nick Eicher and Kent Covington discuss Scott Walker’s presidential aspirations on The World and Everything in It: 

Nick Eicher

Nick lives in St. Louis, loves the Blues (as in the NHL), is executive producer of WORLD Radio, and co-hosts WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickEicher.

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