The Campaign Spot

Scott Walker, Coy About 2016

From the first Morning Jolt of the week:

Scott Walker Isn’t Saying He’s Running . . . but He Sounds Like He’s Running.

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker dropped by the National Review DC offices Friday.

He’s out promoting his new book, Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge, and his publisher asked that we not quote him about the book until the official publication this week. Walker is quick to emphasize the book isn’t an autobiography; it’s mostly about his years as governor so far, particularly the high-profile fights over pension reform and controlling spending and his recommendations about enacting conservative policies in a purple-to-blue state.

One of Walker’s key messages Friday was that as disastrous as the Obamacare rollout has been, Republicans cannot be seen as gloating or “spiking the football”; he says that as a governor who did not expand Medicaid or set up a state exchange, his role is to do his best for the people in his state who “slip through the cracks” — who have lost their existing insurance plans and can’t buy or afford a new one through the dysfunctional federal web site.

I asked Walker about his reelection outlook; most polls have him in good but not great position, leading his only announced challenger, Democrat Mary Burke, by a few percentage points but below 50 percent. Walker said he governs a state that is roughly evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, and that he thinks it’s fair to say he has a ceiling of about 52 to 53 percent. He also said that while he won the recall by a margin that surprised many, 53 percent to 46 percent, he recognizes that some of that margin came from voters who disagreed with the recall on principle, not because they agreed with everything he was doing. The governor’s decision to make that point, unprompted, represents something of a declaration against interest. Give him some points for honesty and modesty.

You may have noticed Walker’s getting some presidential buzz. Walker said he couldn’t guarantee he would finish another term as governor, and said he had never given that sort of assurance in any previous race. It seems safe to interpret the lack of a blanket denial of a presidential bid as a sign that Walker isn’t ruling it out.

If Walker ran, he might be one of the strongest hybrid or consensus Republican candidates in the field. Tea Partiers should love him, as he may be one of the most spectacularly effective budget-cutters in the country, successfully changing the collective bargaining process for most public employees in Wisconsin. Membership numbers are plummeting for Wisconsin’s public sector unions, as are membership dues.

(PolitiFact quibbles a bit with Walker’s boast of turning a “$3.6 billion deficit into more than a half-billion-dollar surplus.” . . . but we’re really talking about the margins here:

That $3.6 billion shortfall that preceded Walker’s first budget is best compared to the projected shortfall Walker faced in his second budget. That number was actually a positive one — $177 million, according to Walker administration reports. That underscores Walker’s success at reducing budgeting tricks in the first budget.

So, the swing isn’t more than $4.1 billion, it’s more like $3.77 billion.

The apples-to-apples view still favors Walker, just not quite as much as he portrayed.)

To the “establishment,” Walker has a lot of experience in government, actually accomplished big, serious, consequential reforms, and he’s blunt but not prone to fire-breathing statements. He said that while he isn’t aiming to give advice to Republicans in Congress, he thinks the party should try to avoid another government shutdown. The party’s wealthy donors love him.

So what would hold back a Walker presidential bid? If you look at the names being mentioned for the 2016 Republican field these days — Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio — they’re all big, bold personalities, almost larger-than-life figures. Walker is an even-keeled, plain-spoken kind of guy. It’s easy to imagine him getting lost on a stage crowded with candidates, or being a bit like Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty’s 2012 bid — another accomplished, reform-minded governor with a Midwestern personality deemed too boring by the grassroots early on.

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