Six months ago, it wasn’t clear if Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) would be a force in a crowded Republican field running for president.
He was in a tie for fourth place nationally in a January polls, well behind former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R). In Iowa, he was even further behind — in ninth place, languishing behind fellow upstarts Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marco Rubio (R-Florida), among others.
But a high-profile, fiery speech in which he left a crowd of GOP activists buzzing changed his fortunes, vaulting him to the top tier of the Republican field. It’s where he remains today, as he officially announces his run for president.
In late January, Walker was among a slew of Republican hopefuls who delivered remarks at the Iowa Freedom Summit, the first unofficial Republican cattle call of the 2016 campaign.
Leading up to his speech there, strategists and activists had framed him as a potential candidate akin to Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2012. Both were Midwestern governors with records of accomplishment, but Pawlenty never broke through last cycle — in a word, he was “boring.”
Walker’s speech at the summit broke that developing narrative. One of the biggest applause lines of his speech came when he tested out a line he’d later use in a tweet earlier this month.
“There’s a reason we take a day off to celebrate the 4th of July and not the 15th of April,” he said, his voice rising. “Because in America we value our independence from the government, not our dependence on it.”
He also spoke in detailed and sometimes personal terms about his record in Wisconsin. At one point, he told the crowd of death threats he and his family received while he was in the midst of a fight against public-sector unions.
“Some of the worst were directed at my family,” Walker said. “I remember one of the ones that bothered me the most was someone literally sent me a threat that said they were going to gut my wife like a deer.”
Since that speech, Walker has never looked back. Three months before the speech, about four-in-10 Iowa GOP voters didn’t know enough about him to form an opinion. About a week after the speech, he was their first choice for the Republican nomination, according to a Des Moines Register poll.
Walker has led every public poll of Iowa since February. He’s now a firm second nationally next to Bush. And a video announcing his run, Walker again highlighted his record as a state executive.
“Now, I am running for President to fight and win for the American people,” he said. “Without sacrificing our principles, we won three elections in four years in a blue state. We did it by leading. Now, we need to do the same thing for America.”
Watch the Iowa speech below, via C-SPAN:
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