A blue state governor with crossover appeal may be the winning ticket for Republicans in 2016, at least that’s the message Americans have been hearing from the media since earlier this month.
It’s also the message that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker pushed on Friday, though not in the same context as we’ve seen in the media recently which has focused primarily on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
“An ideal candidate to me would be a current or former governor,” Walker, author of the new book, “Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge,” told reporters in Washington Friday. “Just because I think governors have executive experience and, more importantly, I think there’s a real sense across America that people want an outsider.”
Walker didn’t say that ideal governor would be him. In fact, based on his analysis it could just as easily be Christie, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindall, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Texas Gov. Rick Perry or Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, all of whom have been mentioned as possible GOP White House aspirants.
But, if 2014 goes as planned for Walker, he will have won three statewide elections in a four year period in the Badger state, which is the birthplace of the Republican party, but has gone Democrat in the last seven presidential elections. In 2012, Walker fended off a union-backed recall election, winning by a bigger margin than he won in 2010.
He is using those victories to tout his crossover appeal, asserting that winning the middle isn’t contingent on moderation.
“Exit polls showed that roughly one in six voters who cast their ballots for me in the June 2012 recall also planned to vote for Mr. Obama a few months later.,” Walker wrote in a Wall Street Journal oped. “These Obama-Walker voters constituted about 9% of the electorate.”
“There are probably no two people in public life who are more philosophically opposite—yet more than one in 10 approve of us both,” Walker continued in the Wall Street Journal. He added, “There are independent, reform-minded voters in every state. In times of crisis, they want leadership—from either party. What I have learned is that if you step forward and offer a reform agenda that is hopeful and optimistic, they may give you a shot. More important, if you deliver, they will stick with you.”
In another hat tip to governors, he wrote, “If our principles were the problem, then why are so many Republican governors winning elections by campaigning on them? Since Barack Obama took office in 2009, the GOP has gone from controlling both the legislature and governor’s mansion in nine states to 23 states today. Not one sitting Republican governor has lost a general election since 2007.”
Both Christie and Walker can take credit for helping get their states’ financial house in better order. Christie’s strength among conservatives was his standing firm against powerful state employee unions a year before Walker was elected. When Walker sought to reign in union power, he faced more pushback, but became a national hero to many conservatives when he survived the recall election.
Christie won reelection by 60 percent of the vote this month. A pro-lifer and fiscal conservative, he has governed more conservatively than other northeastern Republicans with national ambitions. However, Christie upset many on the right for his literal embrace of President Barack Obama during Hurricane Sandy – which some are convinced helped Obama get reelected. Other hurdles for Christie when it comes to GOP primary voters will be his belief in man-made global warming, and support for a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Of course, it is by no means a two man race yet.
Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, and another Wisconsin native, Rep. Paul Ryan, are likely strong contenders for the Republican nomination in 2016, despite Walker’s assertion that the nod should go to a governor.
But historically governors have outperformed senators in presidential contests. Obama is the first senator to ascend to the White House since John F. Kennedy. Four governors were elected president between that time. And of the governors likely in the 2016 field, Walker might also have a case to make about his conservatism, since some of the other potential Republican candidates accepted additional federal money for Medicaid expansion and Walker did not.
“Republicans need to do more than simply say no to Mr. Obama and his party’s big-government agenda,” Walker wrote in the Journal, in a shot at Washington Republicans. “They can offer Americans positive solutions for the nation’s challenges—to reduce dependency, and create hope, opportunity, and upward mobility for all citizens.”