Wisconsin Republicans have yet to nominate a candidate for governor. Indeed, the state's primary is not until Sept. 14. But two national GOP heavyweights -- former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich -- are bullish on the prospects of Scott Walker, the self-described, brown-bag-packing county executive of Milwaukee.
"The guy is a fantastic candidate," Bush said. "The event that we did together, he gave a stump speech that sounded like it was the last three days of the campaign. I mean, he was on fire. It was, it was, he's the real deal."
The Wisconsin governor's race is one of the 2010 contests that could have implications in the 2012 White House race. Much more so than senators, governors tend to command the kind of state political machinery that can make a difference in a presidential contest.
Although President Obama carried the state by 14 points over John McCain in 2008, the state was a major battleground in 2004 when John Kerry won the state by 1 percent and in 2000 when Al Gore carried the state by less than 1 percent, a mere 5,708 votes.
Walker, 42, has put anecdotes about his personal frugality at the center of his campaign. In all his campaign messaging, he touts himself as someone who "drives a 1998 Saturn with 100,000 miles on it" and who "packs the same brown-bag lunch before heading to the office to save money: two ham and cheese sandwiches on wheat with mayo."
His first television ad touted that he has given back $370,000 in salary over eight years because he thought it was wrong for the county executive to be paid more than the state's governor.
"My wife was like, 'We're doing what?'" Walker said in his first television ad. "But we believe that government spends too much and that included my salary."
Making political hay out of the lunch that he packs for himself, Walker has branded his events around the state as part of a "Brown Bag Movement" that has three tenets: (1) "don't spend more than you have"; (2) "smaller government is better government"; and (3) "people create jobs, not government."
Walker's movement has a website that includes images of brown paper bags with pointed messages on them such as, "I'd be eating out if the government wasn't gobbling up all my money." Another message is, "We spent $780 billion on a stimulus plan and all I got was this brown bag."
During a recent fundraising trip to Washington, D.C., Walker talked to ABC News about the hands-on approach that Gingrich has taken toward his candidacy.
"Newt, my gosh, Newt must e-mail me like every other day, sometimes, I think, with new ideas," Walker said. "Sometimes, it's hard to digest it all."
One part of Walker's appeal to Republican bigwigs is his Milwaukee base. If Walker outperforms the typical Republican in Milwaukee, he said, he believes that traditional Republican strength in more rural parts of the state will power him to victory in November.
"The year I got 60 percent, Obama took two-thirds of the vote in my county," Walker said. "We're going to run to win in Milwaukee County, but if I get, say, 45 percent, it's over."
Another part of Walker's appeal to Republicans is his fiscal record in Milwaukee. The size of the government workforce is down 23 percent from where it was in 2002 and the county debt is down by 10 percent, he said.