Presidential run shines spotlight on Walker, state

GOV.

SCOTT WALKER CONFIRMED this past week what some have been wondering for a year and what many expected him to do after seeing his travels this year: He’s seeking the Republican nomination for president in the 2016 election.

He may not be the first Wisconsinite to run for president (former Gov. Tommy Thompson’s run during the 2012 election was the most recent), but he may be the first with a shot at getting elected.

That, in turn, means our state will also be in the spotlight.

The attention can be nice. Wisconsin will be known for something other than our sports teams, our penchant for beer and cheese, and our “flyover” state status.

Walker will have to run on his record as governor if he wants to make his voice heard among the din of 14 (now 15) other Republicans in a field that is expected to grow to a total of 17 GOP candidates.

When U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, was the vice presidential nominee on former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s ticket in the 2012 election, the media focused more on Ryan’s actions in the U.S. House than in Wisconsin.

The opposite will be the case for Walker, who plays up the aw-shucks Midwestern shtick with his Harley-Davidson rides and stump speeches that incorporate Average Joe experiences, such as shopping for clothes at Kohl’s.

That’s all window dressing.

The national media will also examine what has happened in Wisconsin since Walker was elected governor (all three times).

What will they find?

Walker supporters will say lower property taxes, a state where unions don’t hold sway, smaller government and a business friendly environment. His critics, though, will cite the impact of Act 10, cuts in education, a budget that many in Walker’s own party poked so full of holes it couldn’t float without some help from a Republican-dominated Legislature.

What they will find is polarization.

Dave Wegge, professor emeritus of political science at St. Norbert College, said these political divisions started before Walker took office, and are similar to ones we’ve seen across the nation, but “I think during his administration they have intensified significantly.”

Polls show the percentage of people who strongly approve and strongly disapprove of Walker has increased dramatically, Wegge said.

The divide causes the hyper-partisanship we’ve witnessed in the state Legislature as well as in Congress. It leads to strong support and strong opposition from both sides, with very little middle ground.

The polarization will fit into the early “invisible primaries” that we’re in now, Wegge said, when Republican candidates appeal to a very conservative base in order to gain support for the GOP nomination before moderating somewhat for the general election.

We’re a little over six months away from the first primary - the Iowa caucus on Feb. 1 - so expect the attention paid to Walker to pick up as he could have more staying power in this race than some of the other candidates who will drop out before even getting to Iowa.

In the meantime, gird yourselves. There will be a lot of political talk about the governor, and to a lesser degree Wisconsin, in the next half year. — Press-Gazette Media (Green Bay), July 18


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