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Walker's Busy Travel Week Fuels Speculation About His Political Ambitions

walker at lectern Eric Thayer-Getty Images 2-22_0.jpg
Eric Thayer Getty Images

Gov. Scott Walker embarks on a speaking frenzy this week. He’s set to keynote huge Republican gatherings in Connecticut and New York City, then head to Iowa, to be the star of a GOP gathering. Iowa is home to the nation's first presidential caucuses.

On Thursday night, Walker will be the headliner in West Des Moines, Iowa, when Polk County Republicans hold their annual fundraiser.

Past speakers have included Newt Gingrich and Michelle Bachman; both went on to become presidential candidates.

Organizer Darrell Kearney says he has “no idea” whether Walker will follow suit. Kearney says planners were not thinking about the 2016 presidential race when they invited the governor.

“What we’re interested in, is individuals who have star power like Gov. Scott Walker. He’s loved by conservatives, we think he’ll be an excellent draw, in fact we’re probably going to sell out and that’s good for us, that’s what we want and I think he’ll be an excellent speaker for the conservative cause here in Iowa,” Kearney says.

Kearney says the choice of Walker would have more presidential significance if the year were 2015.

While Iowa Republicans downplay the presidential implications of the speaking engagement, Chris Murray predicts Gov. Walker will use the event to test the waters. Murray is a political scientist at Marquette University’s Les Aspin Center in Washington.

“I would certainly say it’s not a coincidence, with Iowa having the first caucuses in presidential years. Any candidate who’s even thinking about or contemplating the idea of running for president, is going to spend quite a bit of time in Iowa. There’s really no other reason why you would go to a gathering like this,” Murray says.

Murray says he wouldn’t be surprised if politicians such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal also show up this year in Iowa. Both Republican leaders are mentioned as potential candidates for the White House.

Pollsters are already gauging public opinion. Political Scientist Charles Franklin recently conducted a poll for Marquette Law School. The results show Gov. Walker trailing Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton by a margin of 50 to 42 percent in Wisconsin, and also falling several points behind Congressman Paul Ryan, in a hypothetical Republican primary.

“It does raise questions about are Republicans in Wisconsin very enthusiastic about seeing him make a race for the White House or are they not ready for that, Franklin says.

Yet, Franklin adds, it’s still awfully early in the process.

“A great deal could change, either up or down for any of these candidates over the next year,” Franklin says.

Franklin says if Walker is seriously considering a presidential run, he must distinguish himself in a crowded field of Republican candidates. In previous speeches at GOP fundraisers, the governor has touted his success at dismantling public employee unions and rejecting federal money to expand Medicaid programs.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.