There's a Walker boom, or at least a boomlet, going on in the nation's first voting state. When you hear speculation about the '16 GOP field -- Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal and others -- it's rare to hear Walker's name included in the group. But keep an eye on him; politically-savvy Republicans certainly are.
Here's one way to test Walker's appeal. Talk to Iowa politicos who supported Mitt Romney last time around, and then talk to politicos who supported anybody but Romney, and ask what they think about Walker. You'll hear a lot of positive things from both groups.
"He's the guy to beat in Iowa as it stands right now," says David Kochel, who ran Romney's 2012 campaign in the state. In an email exchange recently, Kochel, who is not working for any candidate at the moment, ran down the list of Walker's strengths. The Wisconsin governor is "a full-spectrum conservative who's comfortable with and speaks the language of Iowa social conservatives," Kochel said. His showdown with public-sector unions won him great admiration and a substantial fundraising base among Republicans. He's a favorite of Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad. And he has "real Tea Party credibility." Put it all together, and it's a pretty strong resume. "I think Walker's ability to reach across coalitions could be unmatched," Kochel said.
A similar assessment comes from an Iowan who worked hard to defeat Romney. "Gov. Walker spoke in a very conversational tone, a very Iowa tone, like an old neighbor," said Jamie Johnson, a GOP State Central Committee member who was at the Des Moines event last week. "He connected." And Johnson -- who strongly supported Rick Santorum in last year's race -- notes that while Walker did well in Iowa's biggest city, he will likely "connect even better in the God-and-guns counties."
Out in those God-and-guns counties, in western Iowa, conservative radio host Sam Clovis calls Walker "a rock star." "He gets great reviews from all who have seen him," says Clovis.
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