Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) argued his fight with unions has prepared him to be commander in chief during his speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Walker prefaced that by saying he wants "I want a commander-in-chief who will do everything in their power to ensure that the threat from radical Islamic terrorists do not wash up on American soil. We will have someone who leads and ultimately we'll send a message not only that we'll protect American soil but do not take this upon freedom-loving people anywhere else in the world. We need a leader with that kind of confidence."
The line is likely to draw attention and could prove problematic for Walker, who like the other governors likely running for president will face heightened scrutiny for his lack of foreign policy experience in a year where GOP voters are increasingly worried about problems abroad.
Democrats quickly pounced on the comments.
"If Scott Walker thinks that it's appropriate to compare working people speaking up for their rights to brutal terrorists, then he is even less qualified to be president than I thought. Maybe he should go back to punting," Democratic National Committee spokesman Mo Elleithee sent in a statement to reporters.
The Democratic opposition research group American Bridge also circulated a video of Walker's comments to the media.
Walker's campaign moved fast to clarify his remarks.
"Governor Walker believes our fight against ISIS is one of the most important issues our country faces," a Walker spokeswoman told The Hill via email. "He was in no way comparing any American citizen to ISIS. What the governor was saying was when faced with adversity he chooses strength and leadership. Those are the qualities we need to fix the leadership void this White House has created."
While the line is likely to prove controversial going forward, Walker's speech itself may have been the most warmly received of the day by the conservative crowd. The huge ballroom was packed, with hundreds of activists lining the walls after seats filled up; the governor gave the crowd what it wanted.
Walker paced the stage throughout the speech wearing the same shirtsleeves and red tie combination that he wore in the Iowa speech that launched him to the top of early presidential polls last month. And while he started off slowly Walker built momentum throughout the speech, earning multiple standing ovations and getting the loudest applause of the day when he fired back at a protestor as he talked about his push to smash Wisconsin's unions.
"Apparently the protestors come from Wisconsin as well. But you know what, those voices can't drown out the voices of the millions of Americans who want us to step up for the hard-working taxpayers," he said to roars and an extended standing ovation.
Walker used much of his speech to highlight his gubernatorial record, broadening past his battles with the unions to show he's a full-spectrum conservative.
"We were a state that had been taxed and taxed and taxed and today I'm proud to say after four years as governor we've reduced the burden on hardworking taxpayers by nearly $2 billion. And get this, a typical homeowner in our state is paying less than property taxes now than they were paying four years ago... How many other governors can say that?" he said to cheers.
Walker continued, interrupted time and again by bursts of applause.
"We've led the way with lawsuit and regulatory reform. We defunded Planned Parenthood and signed pro-life legislation. We enacted concealed carry and passed castle doctrine, and we passed the law in our state that says if thou need to vote you need to vote legally, it should be easy to vote but hard to cheat. In our state we passed a law that says you need a photo ID to vote," he said to roars.
Walker also sought to burnish his foreign policy credentials as well during the speech, though he was thin on details.
"We need a leader who will stand with Israel, and we need a leader who understands that when the prime minister and leader of our longtime ally asks to come to Congress to share his concerns about Iran we should show him and his country our respect," he said, taking aim at President Obama's fight with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "We need to show the world that in America you have no better ally and no greater enemy."
Updated at 8:00 p.m.