GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — A conservative favorite thanks to his tangle with unions, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker pitched himself Thursday as a leader with the experience to put the nation on a path to the right.
"I am worried for the future of my children," the prospective 2016 Republican presidential candidate told Republicans in Greenville during the second of two state GOP events he attended in the early voting state. But, he added, "I am an optimist. ... I still feel good about America."
Walker also addressed a fundraising luncheon in Columbia, recounting his 2012 recall election victory and his successful efforts to weaken labor unions for public and some private workers. He painted a rosy view of his tenure as Wisconsin's governor, noting his fiscal policies and support for new abortion restrictions. The same "commonsense conservative" approach can work in Washington, he said, and described the nation's capital as "68 square miles surrounded by reality."
Walker criticized President Barack Obama and his allies — including Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democrats' presidential favorite if she runs as expected — as people who talk about "growing the economy in Washington." Instead, said the governor, "we should measure success on how many people are no longer dependent on government."
The 47-year-old son of a Baptist minister drew applause when he talked at length about prayer during his appearance in Greenville, part of an upstate region in which religious conservatives are particularly influential. "When someone tells me they're praying for me, I have to reach out and touch them," he said.
Besides attending the state party events, Walker met privately with Gov. Nikki Haley and other elected Republicans at the Capitol in Columbia.
South Carolina GOP Chairman Matt Moore said Walker impressed him as a social and fiscal conservative who favors a strong military posture. "He can pull from all those bases," Moore said. "He's the kind of candidate who will do well in South Carolina."
The state will hold the South's first primary, in February, just weeks after the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.
Walker will be in rural Rock Hill and the coastal city of Charleston on Friday. His visit to the state follows a similar two-day whirlwind by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
Walker didn't mention Bush or any other potential GOP rivals, but he said that his success in the recall effort has helped him build a national profile and advance fundraising, with more than 300,000 donors contributing from every state, most giving $75 or less. Only 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney has more unique donors among Republicans, he said.
Billy Boylston, a local lobbyist and former congressional staffer who attended the lunch, said Walker's anti-union approach plays well in a state where Haley is sharply critical of efforts to unionize a growing Boeing facility. "The South is a right-to-work region, period," Boylston said.
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