Politics & Policy

Scott Walker Is Setting Expectations High

Walker kicks off his campaign in Waukesha, Wisc. (Scott Olson/Getty)

Waukesha, Wis. — Scott Walker officially entered the presidential race Monday with high expectations — expectations that his campaign has done little to tamp down.

Walker is the 15th Republican to announce he will chase the Republican presidential nomination, and party operatives already see him as one of the front-runners, alongside former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Senator Marco Rubio.

Much of that stems from the fact that Walker is leading the pack in Iowa, where, the Washington Post reported last week, his team plans on a win to give him the momentum heading into the next few early states.

But that means the pressure is on.

“Scott Walker’s path to the nomination goes through Iowa. There is no alternate plan,” says Republican David Avella, the chairman of GOPAC, a fundraising committee that is not aligned with a presidential campaign. If Walker doesn’t win Iowa, Avella tells NR, “the path becomes a lot harder for him.” While candidates usually try to lower expectations, Team Walker has done nothing of the sort.

‘Scott Walker’s path to the nomination goes through Iowa. There is no alternate plan.’

Ironically, he burst onto the national stage in January by surpassing all expectations at a GOP cattle call in the Hawkeye State, delivering a rousing speech and electrifying the crowd. The audience had expected boring, and they were surprised. The Wisconsin governor’s presidential campaign will test what happens when, in part as a result of his own actions, voters expect a lot. He has promised victory not only in Iowa but in Nevada, too. Anything less will be a disappointment.

Walker is not the only Republican focusing on Iowa. Several others are staking their candidacies on the Hawkeye State, which has produced surprise victories in elections past: An underfunded Mike Huckabee won in 2008, and Rick Santorum beat out Mitt Romney by a handful of votes in 2012.

RELATED: On Taxes, Scott Walker Has Wisely Jettisoned His Supply-Side Orthodoxy

It’s a challenging state. Walker “can’t look like [he’s] getting outworked or outmuscled,” says one unaffiliated Republican strategist who worked on the 2012 campaign. “What they need to do is constantly remind those voters out there that they’re doing all of the things that Iowa voters expect you to do to earn their vote.”

That means putting in a lot of time on the ground, which Walker seems prepared to do. In an interview with Sean Hannity after Monday’s speech, the governor more than once promised to do a  “full Grassley” in Iowa — that is, to visit all 99 counties in the state, something that Senator Chuck Grassley does with great regularity. It’s evident from Walker’s schedule that he’s prioritizing the state: His campaign schedule for the next week is one day each in Nevada, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, followed by four days in Iowa.

In his speech Monday, at the Waukesha County Expo Center, from the same stage where he celebrated his victory in the 2012 recall election, Walker delivered red meat to primary voters and cast himself as a candidate that could win in the general election.

Speaking in shirtsleeves, with no tie or jacket, Walker pitched himself to social conservatives, who play an important role in the Iowa caucuses.

“We defunded Planned Parenthood and enacted pro-life legislation,” Walker said of his record as governor. “Healthy or sick, born or unborn, I will fight and win for you,” he said.

One of the biggest applause lines of the night was his mention of a voter-ID law he’d signed; another was about a provision in the budget he just approved that requires drug tests for adults receiving welfare. 

RELATED: Scott Walker’s Sudden Right Turn on Social Issues

Interestingly, Walker outsourced his nastiest attacks. Rachel Campos-Duffy, the wife of Wisconsin representative Sean Duffy, ripped into the likely Democratic nominee. “Scott loves to take long rides on his Harley,” Campos-Duffy said. “Hillary loves to take long rides in the back seat of her limousine. She hasn’t driven a car or pumped gas for herself since Al Gore invented the Internet.”

#related#“Scott has been married to Tonette for 24 years. 24 is Bill Clinton’s favorite age,” she cracked.

Walker himself mentioned Clinton only briefly.

As Walker sets off on his announcement tour, his challenge is to show that he can do what he has promised: notch early wins, and secure the momentum to carry him through to the nomination. Convincing, momentum-building wins might be tougher to come by for any candidate in a field where the top contenders could be separated by a few percentage points, and where each of the early states could foreseeably have a different winner. First, Walker has to pull it off in Iowa.

When he shows up there, Avella says, “There is no substitute for winning.”

— Alexis Levinson is a political reporter for National Review Online.

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