Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker–both potential 2016 contenders–descended into New Hampshire over the weekend, with both candidates trying to establish themselves in a critical early voting state before the 2016 season kicks into high gear.
Walker headed up to the Granite State to “woo” its top Republicans, while also speaking to grassroots groups, business owners, and participating in some media events. Last Friday, he met with former Gov. John Sununu, former Sen. Scott Brown, and was interviewed by WMUR and the New Hampshire Union Leader. Walker made comments to the press after the NHGOP grassroots training Saturday, where he said that Jeb Bush–though a good man–is the candidate of the past (via Politico):
“Jeb’s a good man. You’re not going to hear me speak ill” of him, Walker said, noting that Bush called him two days before announcing his leadership PAC. “I just think voters are going to look at this and say, ‘If we’re running against Hillary Clinton, we’ll need a name from the future - not a name from the past - to win.’ “
Walker acknowledged Bush’s fundraising advantage as well.
“There’s a lot of people who are loyal to that family because of an ambassadorship or an appointment or something like that, so those people are going to show up big on his first report,” the Republican governor said, remarking that he is hoping for “donors of passion,” not “donors of obligation.”
Walker has also been building his presence in Iowa as well. Moreover, he's been crisscrossing the country, reportedly trying to poach donors from the Bush, Perry, and Cruz networks. Additionally, Walker is said to have a small donor rolodex that rivals Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). He could potentially have one of the largest fundraising networks in the party; the donors are there. After all, he's raised close to $85 million for this three elections in the past four years, which is remarkable given that Wisconsin isn't a powerhouse state.
But, the Bush Team isn’t discouraged, knowing that this will probably be the reaction from a lot of Republicans about their man who’s last election was his 2002 re-election bid in Florida. While in New Hampshire, Bush took a more “open arms” approach (via Yahoo! News):
“We’re leading with our chin,” said one Bush adviser.
Bush took a wide array of questions from the press, dealing with topics such as Hillary Clinton’s emails, the letter from Republican senators to the Ayatollah in Iran, whether Bush has changed his mind on a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants (he said he hasn’t), whether he will revisit his support for the Renewable Fuel Standard since second-generation biofuel producers said this week it’s not working for them (he indicated he might), and whether he’ll release his list of bundlers if he runs (he said he didn’t know).
On some questions, Bush gave vague or noncommittal replies or said he didn’t have an answer yet, as he hasn’t yet declared himself a candidate.
Bush was doing three things with this approach. First — and possibly foremost — he was issuing a challenge to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who was in the state at the same time. Walker is the current darling of many in the Republican Party and is increasingly viewed as the champion of its conservative wing against the more moderate Bush.
But Walker — who at 47 is 15 years Bush’s junior — has far less political experience, especially with the national media. And Walker has already stumbled a few times in his few weeks at the front of the very large 2016 Republican pack.
Bush’s open arms approach in New Hampshire accentuated his comfort discussing a broad range of issues and his ability to stay cool under pressure. It will serve as a contrast with Walker, if the Wisconsin pol does not adapt the same style, or could even encourage the confrontational Wisconsinite to put himself before the roiling cacophony of shouted questions and camera flashes before he is ready and comfortable doing so.
Walker has been hit for switching positions on immigration, but said he changed his mind, no longer supporting a pathway for citizenship for illegal aliens because “we listen to the people.” Nevertheless, other Republican opposition researchers have been circulating memos charting Walker’s position shifts on abortion, ethanol, immigration, and Common Core; the last one being anathema to Republican primary voters (via AP):
In the past week, aides working for other Republicans expected to run in 2016 have circulated materials that highlight Walker's change in position on immigration, ethanol mandates, Common Core education standards, abortion and right-to-work legislation.
"The only major issue out there is immigration, and we listened to the people," Walker told The Associated Press on Saturday during his New Hampshire tour when asked about his critics. "The other ones out there are just ridiculous."
One campaign has a spreadsheet that outlines when Walker changed a position in comparison to 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney. The analysis found that Walker's shifts on more than a dozen issues came an average of 15 months before the Iowa caucuses — almost a year later than did Romney's.
"Voters still don't know the real Scott Walker," said veteran Republican operative John Feehery, who is not aligned with any of the potential candidates. "And if he thinks he can get them to like him merely by saying things that they want to hear, he is going to run into the same problem that plagued Mitt Romney: authenticity."
In the heat of his re-election campaign last year, Walker softened his position on abortion, saying the decision was between "a woman and her doctor" in a television ad about legislation requiring women to have pre-abortion ultrasounds.
This month, after drawing criticism from conservatives, Walker said he would sign a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Walker's team says he has not changed his abortion stance and cites his perfect rating with Wisconsin anti-abortion groups.
As a candidate for governor in 2006, Walker was critical of the requirement that gasoline contain a certain amount of corn-based ethanol. "Mandates hurt Wisconsin's working families," he said at the time. "And whether they are from Washington or Madison, we as fiscal conservatives should oppose them."
Speaking at an agriculture summit in Iowa last week, Walker said the fuel standard that requires the use of ethanol is "something he's willing to move forward on." His team says he still supports the gradual phase-out of the ethanol policy.
Walker's first budget as governor supported the Common Core academic standards in 2011, but he called for their repeal last summer. During his recent re-election campaign and in the months that followed, Walker said an effort to pass right-to-work legislation in Wisconsin would be a distraction and he urged lawmakers not to address it.
Last week, after the Wisconsin Legislature did so, he signed the bill into law.
Yet, before Republicans start the cannibalization process, AshLee Strong, spokesperson for Walker’s Our American Revival PAC said, “Gov. Walker has a proven record of championing big, bold reforms in Wisconsin to limit the government and empower people. It's lazy and inaccurate to simply lump all issues into one narrative instead of actually examining the facts.”
For now, Walker has impressed New Hampshire.