MILWAUKEE (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has his mojo back, and he's got Ted Cruz and Donald Trump to thank for it.
Walker is re-emerging as a national political force six months after slipping into relative obscurity following his own short-lived, disappointing run for president.
Walker helped deliver Wisconsin for Cruz in a 13-point victory on Tuesday on an election night where the governor's hand-picked state Supreme Court justice also won. Walker's favorability ratings are also the highest they've been in a year, talk of him being on the vice presidential short list is increasing and he is now positioned to play a significant role in helping to deliver Wisconsin for a Republican presidential candidate for the first time in 32 years.
"Anyone who doubts we're not back and re-engaged in Wisconsin, they don't doubt it after last night," Walker said in an interview on WTMJ radio in Milwaukee on Wednesday. Walker said he "absolutely" had regained his mojo, saying Trump made a mistake by attacking his record as governor while campaigning in the state. Trump blew into Wisconsin and immediately blasted the job Walker's been doing as governor, even criticizing him for not raising taxes to avoid cutting education funding.
"Wisconsin is doing very poorly," Trump said.
Walker equated Trump's strategy with someone coming to Lambeau Field where the Green Bay Packers play and taking a "whack" at quarterback Aaron Rodgers or even beloved retired star Brett Favre.
Trump's criticism of Walker approach did not sit well with Wisconsin's Republican base, where Walker enjoys 83 percent support — almost double his approval overall.
B.J. McCarthy, a 39-year-old Walker supporter who attended Cruz's victory party in Milwaukee on Tuesday night, said he thinks Walker has benefited from aligning himself with Cruz.
"It's bringing people back to remember who he was and why we put him in office in the first place," said McCarthy, a former public school teacher from Milwaukee who now works as a tutor.
Even in liberal Madison, where protesters filled the streets in opposition to Walker's anti-union proposal five years ago, there were signs of his renewed relevance.
"That looks like a pretty good president and vice president ticket right there," an audience member shouted as Walker joined Cruz on stage for an interview Monday.
Cruz's communications director Jason Miller laughed off a question Tuesday night about any vice presidential selection.
"We're worried about the 1,237 right now; that's our focus," he said, referring to the delegates needed to secure the nomination.
While Walker has said he's focused on finishing his second term, which runs through 2018, he's been more circumspect when talking about his interest in being vice president.
"Who know who the nominee is or who that person would want, or not want, in terms of their running mate," Walker said in September.
Walker took full advantage of Cruz's campaigning in the state, appearing with him at large rallies and touting his own record as governor in a speech that sounding almost like he was making the case for his own re-election — or credentials for vice president.
Walker backer Julaine Appling, leader of the anti-abortion group Wisconsin Family Action, said it served Walker well to reconnect with his base and remind them what he's achieved in the past six years.
"I do believe he's trying to put us in the mindset: We can do more of this if you keep me around," Appling said. "I'm energized by it."
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