Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has a lot going for him as he seeks his party’s nomination for the Presidency. He is a successful two term Governor of a blue state at the Presidential level, has presided over three statewide electoral victories and enacted sweeping legislative reform.
But it is Wisconsin’s blue hue at the Presidential level that stands out as Walker’s greatest weakness. For all his successes in state politics the Governor is unlikely to carry Wisconsin at the Presidential level. This, as one of his campaign’s strongest talking points is that he can carry a blue state like Wisconsin and perhaps take another with it (Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, etc.)
Like many “Blue Wall” states Wisconsin is a competitive state at the state level. But that competitiveness has not translated to Presidential races. While Bush lost the state in 2000 and 2004 by less than 1% John McCain lost it by 14% in 08 and Romney 7% in 2012 just a mere five months after Walker won his recall by 7%.
Like Bush, Walker contends he can put Wisconsin on the map. One of the things most people overlook about Bush was his 2004 strength among rural moderates. These voters are a significant share of the Wisconsin electorate, are pro-gun, split on abortion and fiscally conservative. Bush had a cultural appeal to these voters. In much the same mold Walker does as well.
Look at Walker’s three statewide victories. In 2010 Walker not only racked up huge margins among the suburbs of SE Wisconsin but he also carried Northeastern Wisconsin (home to Green Bay and its populous suburbs) and the heavily rural Northwest. Walker won suburban voters 43%-56% but rural voters 44%-55%. The last Republican to do so well among these voters at any level was Bush.
Fast forward to the 2012 recall and Walker further solidified his support among the group. While Walker’s support among suburban voters stayed largely flat he increased his support among rural voters to 60%. Walker’s support in his 2014 reelection bid among suburbanites increased to 57% but his rural support dipped slightly to 58%.
Walker’s runs also hint at other strengths he possesses. He never won less than 45% of the 18-29 vote and hit a high water mark of 47% among the group in 2014. The support traditionally conservative SE Wisconsin gave him was also remarkable.
But, this was all done at the state level in statewide races. The issues boiled down more to pragmatism and cost cutting than debates over abortion, gay marriage, tax cuts for the rich, etc. Once the debate turns to that how would Walker fare?
Already, Walker’s standing in the state has taken a steep dive. Since 2011 Walker’s approval ratings remained remarkably steady according to Marquette University, hovering around 45%-51%. When he was reelected in 2014 52% of voters approved of him and he received 52% of the vote. But new polls find he is now underwater as he makes his national aspirations known and focuses on courting a larger, national audience.
A PPP survey finds the Governor with a 43/52 approval rating and he trails Hillary Clinton 52%-43%. More worrisome the more accurate Marquette University survey finds Walker trialing Clinton 52%-40%. Highlighting one of the Governor’s issues a whopping 64% said the Governor could not handle both the duties of running for President and being state executive.
Admittedly, it is early. Much can change. But early polls out of Wisconsin show Walker would struggle to win his state. However, both PPP’s and Marquette’s samples reflect a more traditional 2008 and 2012 electorate; less Republican and more Democratic, a far cry from the 2000 and 2004 electorates.
Regardless, Walker has his strengths. He appeals to rural, downscale voters as well as suburbanites not just in Wisconsin but nationwide. However, if he is to win Wisconsin if he is the GOP nominee he will have to find someway to maintain his appeal to rural voters in the Northwest and suburban voters in the Northeastern suburbs. Not an easy task when the issues you courted these voters on have changed and become much more polarizing.