If Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's 2016 strategy entailed plugging along as a respected dark horse -- operating just beyond the brightest lights, while quietly maneuvering to make his move after various competitors flame out -- he's going to need to devise a new playbook. For all the media chatter about Mitt Romney passing on the race and Jeb Bush raising heaps of cash (and giving forward-looking speeches like his Detroit address this week), Scott Walker's coming out party has arguably been the biggest thunderclap in the proto-primary race. Positive coverage of his strong performance at an Iowa forum last month helped propel Walker to the top spot in the latest Des Monies Register poll. He was a virtual nonentity in the same survey's October results, pulling just four percent at the time. The Walker boomlet -- the first of many in this contest -- is real. Welcome to the limelight, governor; even if you're accustomed to attention and attacks, there's nothing like the scrutiny of a presidential race. The Washington Post's Aaron Blake wonders if Walker's style may prove too nice, too vanilla, too "Midwestern," to resonate nationally:
Likening two candidates because of geography, of course, isn’t completely fair. But I subscribe to the idea that there is such a thing as being too Midwestern to be president. Candidates in this 24/7 media age quite simply need to be compelling. Call it the “charisma threshold.” As a fellow Minnesotan, when I saw Pawlenty telling corny jokes and looking exceedingly Midwestern milquetoast in the 2012 campaign, I wondered how he would excite anybody enough to assert himself as a front-runner. A president needs to be seen as forceful and decisive; as Garrison Keillor will point out, being upper-Midwestern is often antithetical to that.
With due respect to Gov. Pawlenty, who handled his share of legislative battles over two terms in a blue state, Scott Walker does not have a "forceful and decisive" deficit. His unwavering pursuit and implementation of his agenda in the face of raucous, wild opposition is a testament to his unflappability. Strong leadership will be a central theme of his campaign, and he's got the goods to back it up. Questions about Walker's charisma and delivery may be more apt, although his showing in Iowa (glimmers of which we've seen in the past) was energetic and engaging. Can he sustain that over the long slog of a campaign? Or will people look back at his successful opening act as a flash in the pan? Time will tell. For now, though, Walker's appeal seems to have expanded farther afield than his own backyard. We're eleven months away from primary season -- insert requisite cliches about "eternities in politics," etc. here -- and Scott Walker is on top in Iowa and New Hampshire:
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's decision not to make a third White House run in 2016 has boosted Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's chances with Republican voters in New Hampshire, home to the first presidential primary, according to a poll released on Wednesday. Some 21.2 percent of Republican voters and independents polled by Reach Communications for NH1 News who said they would likely vote in the state's presidential nominating primary said they would vote for Walker. That gave Walker a solid lead over former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who had the support of 14.4 percent of likely voters. The finding from the Feb. 2-3 poll of 1,012 respondents, conducted days after Romney said he would not make a third run at the White House, marked a sharp change from a poll two weeks earlier that showed Romney favored by about 29 percent of likely voters, a commanding lead. This week's poll, which had a 3.1 percentage point margin of error, showed Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, retired surgeon and Tea Party favorite Ben Carson and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie rounding out the top five candidates.
Some analysts predicted that many of Romney's backers would jump into Bush's camp, as both men are poised, well-funded, establishment-leaning Republicans. This Granite State poll suggests a different dynamic at play, with Walker reaping the biggest windfall of support following Mitt's exit. In fairness, this might be explained by shiny-new-object mentality among less engaged voters. Basically, "my preferred known commodity is out, so I need to explore other options, and this guy is getting a lot of attention right now." Again, we'll see the extent to which Walker can sustain the momentum he's built with this opening splash. Does that require a full-court press at this stage, though? A sharp observer I spoke to earlier suggested that Walker's best bet at the moment might be to scale back his public travel schedule for awhile and focus on his state's budget process and various initiatives. He's already served notice that he'll be a serious contender when he officially enters the race. But doing his day job well will be at the heart of his pitch to primary voters, so perhaps he'd be well served by taking care of business back home for awhile. He's had a good sprint and his rivals have absolutely taken notice. It's pacing time in this marathon. I'll leave you with Walker building the case against Hillary Clinton on ABC's This Week, casting her as a candidate of the Beltway and of the past: