COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa -- On his first trip to Iowa as the fresh face of the Republican presidential field, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has been putting the pedal to the metal, crisscrossing the Hawkeye State’s corn field-lined interstates in a souped-up Winnebago RV with a goal of hitting all 99 counties before voters here cast the nation’s first votes in the presidential nominating process.
Since arriving in Iowa Friday -- the final stop of his whirlwind five-state, 16-city campaign kickoff tour -- it has been abundantly clear that Iowa is the key to Walker’s White House hopes.
"We're pulling a full Grassley. We're doing like Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst and Terry Bandstad," Walker is telling audience after audience, referring to the state's two senators and governor, as he traverses the length and breadth of Iowa with his wife and two college-age sons. "We're going around in an RV in all 99 counties across this great state. We're having a lot of fun, it's a lot of fun for us cruising around the state in the RV."
It's a tried-and-true approach for the masters of Iowa-style retail politics, and one that's not only reaped benefits for Iowa politicians but presidential hopefuls too. Rick Santorum, the winner of the state’s 2012 Republican caucuses, visited all 99 counties. And as the governor of a neighboring Midwestern state who spent his early childhood years in Iowa, the son of a small-town Baptist preacher, Walker goes heavy in emphasizing his Midwestern roots – and values -- as he makes his pitch to voters here.
While campaigning this week, he has taken to pulling from his pocket a 40-year-old-photo of him and his brother, David, holding an Iowa state flag and telling the story of how as boys they raised money to buy a state flag for the Plainfield, Iowa, town hall by walking around town with a mayonnaise jar with a slit in the top, eventually collecting enough coins to purchase the flag.
"That’s the kind of people we are here in the Midwest," Walker said. "We stand up for what's right, we do the right thing, we don't make a lot of fuss about it, we just do it. And I think that's what we need now more than ever in Washington."
Everything from Walker's choice of transportation (he jokes he could go camping in the RV) to his footwear (Harley boots) and the contents of his pockets (that photo of him and his brother holding an Iowa state flag as children), bolster Walker’s narrative as a relatable guy who could just as easily live down the block as he could at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Walker closes his stump speech with a promise not to leave the people of Iowa behind in the rearview mirror of his Winnebago if they can deliver him a win in the 2016 caucuses.
"I'm not just coming to the caucus, I'm committed here," Walker says. "You help me win this caucus and we go on and become the nominee, we will be back in Iowa to win in November of 2016, because the pathway to a Republican president comes through the Midwest."