Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz: These are the names most likely to come up when you talk about strong GOP contenders in 2016.
Scott Walker — though very well known inside the beltway thanks in part to the contentious recall election he won last year — is not usually a name at the forefront of that list. But the first-term Wisconsin governor has a lot in his background that makes him a strong candidate for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. Here are four reasons why Walker could be the surprise candidate of the next cycle.
1) He hasn’t completed his first term, but he’s already won two gubernatorial elections in Wisconsin. Walker was first elected governor in 2010. He swept in with the wave of new Republican governors in that year’s now infamous midterm cycle. Walker, then 44, quickly emerged as one of , possibly the most polarizing figures in the Badger state.
In 2011, almost immediately after taking office, he proposed and passed legislation that limited collective bargaining rights for many public-sector unions. The move infuriated labor unions across Wisconsin and the country. The unions and their supporters fought back, gathering one million signatures to recall the governor.
A tough recall election ensued, in which more than $80 million was spent by Walker friends and foes, and ultimately Walker emerged as the winner. Although, Walker’s opponents would point out, there were variables in that race that were unique to that particular contest. Perhaps most important was the fact that, according to exit polls from the race, 60 percent of Wisconsin voters believed that recall elections were only appropriate in cases of “official misconduct”– which was not the case in that race.
2) He appeals to the base. His father was a Baptist minister, his mother was a bookkeeper, he was an Eagle Scout, he attended college at Marquette University in Wisconsin but didn’t graduate, and he went into public service at age 22. Walker certainly has a compelling narrative that resonates with the base. He’s fiscally conservative, as evidenced by his policies as governor, and he’s socially conservative as well: He is strongly anti-abortion including in cases of rape and incest, and he supports abstinence-only sex education in schools. Plus, at 46 Walker is young and energetic.
3) And he also appeals to big GOP donors like the Koch brothers. Walker raised over $30 million in his recall election, and a huge amount of outside money was also spent toward his victory. The conservative spending group Americans for Prosperity — a 501c3 group known for its ties to GOP mega donors the Koch Brothers — spent approximately $3.7 million in the race, according to calculations from the non-partisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
4) Geography. Walker’s strong midwestern roots could give him a boost in the primaries and in the general election were he to win the nomination. As a young boy Walker lived in Iowa, and he moved to Wisconsin when he was 10, went to college in the state and never really left. He was elected to Wisconsin state assembly when he was 22. In the primaries, his geography could of course be an asset in Iowa, but it could also prove valuable further down the road, with big states like Illinois, Ohio, and of course, his own state of Wisconsin, all of which are typically big delegate prizes.
In the general election, Walker’s presence on the ballot would very likely make Wisconsin, which hasn’t gone red in a presidential election since 1984, a real possibility for Republicans. Not to mention the hope that his proximity to another midwestern state, Ohio, would boost the GOP’s chance in that most important of places.