Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) has suddenly become a significant factor in the 2016 presidential contest.
Walker, who has not been regarded as a GOP front-runner, nevertheless surged to the top of the field in a Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll of Iowa voters released over the weekend.
Though Walker’s lead in the survey isn’t significant — just 15% of the vote, compared to 14% for Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) — the fact that he’s already so competitive is notable.
“Yes, he’s ahead of Rand Paul by just one point, but consider that Walker is the only candidate at the top of the list who either hasn’t run before (a la Mike Huckabee), or whose father did (a la Paul). So as the 2016 race is now getting underway, this is a big moment for Walker,” NBC News declared Monday.
Walker nevertheless faces a number of obstacles if he runs for the White House next year. Although he had high-profile battles with public sector unions, he doesn’t have the name recognition of someone like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), whose brother and father served as president. Local prosecutors accused Walker of illegally coordinating one of his campaigns with an outside group. And he is stereotyped as “boring and bland,” according to Walker himself.
Despite his reputation, however, Walker turned heads with a “fiery” speech in Iowa last month, in which he reportedly wowed conservative activists in the key presidential primary state.
“Before the Iowa Freedom Summit on Saturday, one Republican activist summed up Gov. Scott Walker’s challenge this way: ‘He doesn’t make the flashbulbs go off,'” Slate’s John Dickerson wrote. “But at the end of the marathon day of speeches before conservatives, the Wisconsin governor emerged as the leading light.”
Vox’s Andrew Prokop further argued last Friday that Walker’s blandness could mean he uniquely benefits from 2012 Mitt Romney’s exit from the 2016 race. Many operatives and reporters claimed former Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) — who, like Romney, are establishment-oriented Republicans — had the most to gain from Romney’s exit, but Prokop posited Walker will now have an easier time standing out in the less crowded GOP field.
“This news is especially helpful to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who was already the thinking man’s choice for a dark horse,” Prokop wrote. “He’s an evangelical Christian with a strongly conservative record. But his main weakness is that his lack of charisma could make it difficult for him to stand out in a crowded field. So, the fewer high-profile candidates there are, the better Walker’s chances are to establish himself as the main Bush alternative.”
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