Iowa insiders say don’t sleep on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) as a possible 2016 presidential contender.
Walker gave a well-received speech to the Iowa Republican Party Thursday night, and many in the state say he would bring some strong assets to a presidential run.
“Gov. Walker has a lot going for him and he'd be a very appealing candidate in a state like Iowa for the caucuses,” says Bob Vander Plaats, an influential social conservative kingmaker in the state. “Not only is he right on a lot of issues, he's been very bold and courageous on his leadership on a lot of those issues. And being a neighbor to Iowa doesn't guarantee you success but it certainly doesn't hurt.”
While pundits and journalists in Washington have focused on the stars in their constellation, Iowans are the ones who will get the first votes in the 2016 GOP primary. Walker, say some state leaders, could connect with voters in the state.
The governor’s push to strip collective bargaining rights from some public sector workes made him a hero on the right — and his victory in a recall election pushed by unions further boosted his stature among Republicans.
His push to defund the state’s Planned Parenthood clinics helped build support among social conservatives.
Those connections will help Walker should he pursue a presidential bid. He’s also got strong fundraising abilities, having raised more than $30 million to win his recall campaign — and is close with Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R), who could give him a big behind-the-scenes boost if he decides to run.
And while Walker hasn’t been as much in the spotlight this year, that might not be a bad thing — conservatives remember him well from his 2011 and 2012 battles.
“It might be ideal that he doesn't have the spotlight on him in terms of watching every move like we do with Rubio, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz,” said Craig Robinson, the editor of TheIowaRepublican.com and a former state GOP political director. “He was received very well last night. It wouldn't concern me to not be the top name mentioned…. Walker has that ability to reach out and let people in and that really plays well in Iowa.”
His Thursday speech was positive and forward-looking, focusing mostly on what the Republican needs to do to win elections in future years.
“We need to be more optimistic, we need to speak in terms that are more relevant, and I think we need to be more courageous,” Walker said during a speech at the Polk County GOP’s Robb Kelley Club dinner. “Those are keys to success in 2014, in 2016 and beyond.”
He also made a point to discuss the seven years he spent as a child in the state, whose first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses have an outsized impact on the primary field.
Those in the audience said the speech wasn’t flashy, but it was well-received.
“People in Iowa loved [Walker’s] speech, they really did. His early comments while maybe not splashy were down to home. He brings up a place in small-town Iowa where he lived. To me he was saying 'I may be in Des Moines tonight but I'm just as comfortable in Ramona or Hubbard.' any rural area in Iowa where you have to do the real work of a presidential campaign,” said prominent Iowa Tea Party activist Ryan Rhodes, who worked on Rep. Michele Bachmann’s (R-Minn.) 2012 presidential campaign.
Rhodes said Walker could make for a formidable candidate — and his position as a governor with a record of accomplishment could give him a leg up over senators who couldn’t claim a signature achievement.
“Obviously 2016 is a long way away. But people are desperately looking for someone new to give them new hope,” he said. “Scott Walker will absolutely be a part of the discussion. It would be remiss for anyone to not think of it that way. He's the only governor to survive a recall in I don't know as many years, and he went on to prove he stood his ground.”