Is Scott Walker an Underdog or a Favorite?

Is Scott Walker an Underdog or a Favorite?

By Ben Domenech - June 22, 2013

The candidates prepare: “While the race for the White House might seem like it's only in its Washington cocktail-party gossip phase, several potential and probable contenders are already making overt moves to court activists in key states and build organizations that can transition easily to a presidential campaign. Their maneuvers are less than subtle: Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has already traveled to Iowa; he'll be back for a state-party fundraiser in July. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has already visited South Carolina; he'll attend the July fundraiser in Iowa with Paul. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida first went to Iowa way back in November 2012, ostensibly to celebrate Gov. Terry Branstad's birthday. All three, along with other potential contenders including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, have been invited to an August forum in Ames, Iowa, organized by a Christian conservative group that's aiming to play big in the 2016 caucuses.”

Reid Wilson outlines the insiders for each prospective candidate likeliest to run their campaign: Terry Sullivan for Rubio, Bill Stepien for Christie, Timmy Teepell for Jindal, Jason Johnson for Cruz, Jesse Benton for Paul, Keith Gilkes for Walker. Regarding the last, Wilson writes: “Consensus among Republicans is that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is becoming the early dark horse, the candidate activists will look to if and when they become disillusioned with other top contenders. And while Walker faces a potentially difficult reelection bid next year in his hyper-polarized state, observers say he's laying the groundwork for a White House bid should the opportunity arise—though much of his travel schedule, an ally said, is about thanking supporters of his recall-election win.”

I don’t think this is necessarily true anymore. You can only have so many descriptions of Walker as the underdog or the dark horse before you realize a few critical things which play in his favor: first, he’s likely to be the only Midwesterner in a field where that could be an advantage – he’s Iowa-born and his proximity to the state is very useful – in fact, he could be the odds on favorite to win it by the time 2016 rolls around; second, he already has a network of national donors and supporters unlike anyone in the field other than Paul – the recall election was a huge logistical advantage for him in collecting names, emails, and donor contacts across the country; and third, and most importantly, he has the unique ability in this field (in the wake of Rubio’s immigration problem) to get a standing ovation with any Republican audience in the country. The establishment likes Walker, the social conservatives trust him, and the Tea Party loves him. Rubio can excite people by talking about being right – Walker can excite them by talking about getting things done.

Now, Walker’s not yet a dynamic speaker, but his everyman persona is going to be more appealing in 2016 than pundits may recognize. His Men’s Wearhouse suits and accent are not the sort of things that appeal to the insider set – one gets the impression he would show up to the G8 meeting with an Old Navy American flag shirt, worn unironically, or start the State of the Union by saying he won’t keep you longer than ten minutes because there’s a game on. But perhaps this is the sort of appeal America is ripe for – a Harding-esque return to normalcy in the wake of an active, overreaching, constantly lecturing Obama administration.

I think it’s a mistake for anyone to consider Walker a second tier candidate in this context – and as a candidate who could take from everyone else’s base of support as others drop out, he could become a consensus fallback in a strong, competitive field. The Pawlenty comparison doesn’t apply, either – for whatever TPaw’s advantages on paper, he lacked the killer instinct one needs to run for president in this era – and he never sat on a throne made out of the skulls of his enemies. 

Benjamin Domenech is editor of The Transom. Click here to subscribe.

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