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Lessons Learned from Scott Walker's Failed Presidential Campaign

Andy Manis
Getty Images
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker leaves after a news conference annoucing the end of his bid for the White House on September 21, 2015 in Madison, Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker ended his campaign for President yesterday.  Walker had until recently polled at or near the top among GOP hopefuls, both nationally and in key states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, and had attracted international media attention.  But after some missteps and limited success in two Republican debates, Walker’s poll numbers had fallen to near zero in the last few days.

Lake Effect's Mitch Teich spoke with Ken Vogel, Chief Investigative Reporter for POLITICO, and Mike Wagner, elections specialist and professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UW-Madison.

Both analysts offer their perspectives on Walker's withdrawal and the key lessons learned:

1. Super PACs can't buy you the White House

"Traditional fundraising for the campaign itself which relies more on small donors dried up and the super PAC was unable to really halt the slide in his poll numbers, and here we are today," Ken Vogel says.

He wrote an article for POLITICO, titled Scott Walker, Rick Perry show limits of super PACs.

2. You need a strong image to stand out

"He was able to play the big money game, but he was less able to sort of get the traction that's required to really spark a fire with the small donors in the Republican base," Vogel says.

3. Scott Walker is just another establishment Republican

"Nationally this was a lot of people's first exposure to Scott Walker, and bowing out of the race after a rather precipitous fall in the polls without showing a whole lot of fire - that's not a great legacy," Vogel explains. "Nonetheless it's not necessarily going to get worse...I don't think that Scott Walker ended up making a whole lot of an impact in this race."

4. Being a Washington outsider doesn't make you a political outsider

"He was regarded by a lot of folks in the base as just another establishment Republican, unlike Donald Trump, or Ben Carson, or Carly Fiorina, who are all really positioning themselves and can effectively legitimately position themselves as outsiders," says Vogel.

5. Candidates need to develop a sustained campaign

"Despite having a national fundraising network that he developed during the recall, despite winning three state-wide elections in blue Wisconsin, he was never really able to parlay those strong advantages into a sustained campaign," Mike Wagner says.

6. A clear state-to-national translation is key

From refusing to answer questions about evolution on a trade mission in England to not giving a clear answer on immigration, reporters were genuinely confused on Walker's stances.

"A lot of these things had national media saying he wasn't quite ready for primetime, had some donors saying 'we still believe in what he did as governor, but we want to see things improve.' And things never really seemed to improve and the national media stopped paying attention to him, and in a field of 17, it's really hard to regain traction when that happens," explains Wagner.

7. An early exit = political spin

"The idea that the party should coalesce around a few candidates who are more likely to be able to win the White House is smart politics," says Wagner. "On the other hand if you think you should be President, backing out for that reason sounds more like spin than anything else."

Audrey Nowakowski hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2014.