Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Enters Republican Presidential Race
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Today, the official number of Republican presidential candidates grew to 15 with the entry of Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker. He made the formal announcement this evening, promising a strictly conservative campaign.
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SCOTT WALKER: My record shows that I know how to fight and win. Now more than ever, America needs a president who will fight and win for America.
SIEGEL: NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now from Waukesha, Wis. And, Scott, the setting of tonight's announcement was deliberately chosen to evoke Gov. Walker's victory in a recall election three years ago. What's the significance of that?
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: That's right, Robert. Walker announced his presidential bid at the Expo Center here in Waukesha, the same spot he celebrated after the unsuccessful effort by his opponents to recall him in 2012. And there were a lot of references to that recall effort. They even showed a video titled "Recall The Recall," and the message was pretty clear. Not only is Scott Walker willing to challenge organized labor - which he did by stripping public-sector unions of their collective bargaining rights - but he's also someone who can survive the political pushback and beat those unions and their allies when they try to unseat him. Waukesha's also the reddest county in all of Wisconsin, and the announcement here signals that Scott Walker is not planning to run as a centrist. He's running as a conservative who can rally - who can rally the conservative base, something he's done successfully in this traditionally-blue state.
SIEGEL: His message seems to be getting some traction. He ranks second behind Jeb Bush on average in national polls, and in Iowa, he's number one.
HORSLEY: That's right, and he's planning a three-day Winnebago tour of Iowa towards the end of this week. He's staking a lot of his campaign on that first caucus state. He's running as a fellow Midwesterner, as the son of a Baptist preacher. His father gave the invocation at the announcement tonight. And that's been well-received by the religious conservatives, who play an outsized role in Iowa's GOP nominating contest.
SIEGEL: Scott, as governor, Walker has focused primarily on economic issues, but lately, he's been more outspoken on social issues. How is that playing?
HORSLEY: After the Supreme Court came down with its ruling on same-sex marriage last month, Walker was very outspoken in calling for a constitutional amendment to reverse that. That certainly does play well with the social conservatives in Iowa, maybe even South Carolina as well. However, it created some friction in Scott Walker's own family. His grown sons have said they disagree with their dad's position on that issue. And it's also a contrast to the way Scott Walker acted last fall when the Supreme Court initially chose not to weigh in on the question of gay marriage. At that point, Scott Walker said he - well, although he was against same-sex marriage personally, he wanted to move on and really focus on jobs in Wisconsin. And of course, that was at a time when he was trying to win a general re-election campaign in this blue state, not competing for favor among a very conservative GOP primary electorate.
SIEGEL: President Obama was in Wisconsin earlier this month, and he took aim at the governor's economic stewardship. Are those attacks likely to stick?
HORSLEY: The president contrasted the economic performance here in Wisconsin with neighboring Minnesota, where the Democratic governor and Democratic legislature had pursued an economic agenda much more like the president's own, more like the liberal agenda that Hillary Clinton championed in her speech today. And Obama said, look, Minnesota's enjoyed both stronger job growth and stronger income growth than Wisconsin has under Scott Walker and his agenda. It's certainly an interesting comparison, one I'm sure we'll hear more from Democrats. We may hear more about Wisconsin's somewhat lackluster recovery from Walker's fellow Republicans, but his Democratic challenger tried that last year in Walker's re-election campaign, and the attack didn't really stick.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Scott Horsley in Waukesha, Wis. Scott, thanks.
HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.