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Politics & Government

Analysts Assess Walker's Abilities in Advance of Iowa Gathering

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Gov. Scott Walker seems to be wading in deeper toward a possible bid for the White House in 2016.

On Saturday, he’s scheduled to speak at a major conservative political event: the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines. Other interested politicians are also scheduled to participate, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and U. S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

We asked a few political observers to assess Walker’s strengths and weaknesses at this point in the game.

Gov. Walker understands the significance of the Iowa Freedom Summit, according to Jeff Kaufmann. He’s chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa. Kaumann says in just 13 months, Iowa’s coveted caucuses will be the first to choose presidential favorites.

“It might be the hottest show in town in January. In some ways this is the beginning of our caucus season,” Kaufmann says.

Kaufmann believes Gov. Walker enjoys particular strength in Iowa because it’s a neighboring state – it doesn’t take him long to get there.

“We’re spoiled in that we want to see our candidates. We want to talk with them, we want to be able to ask them questions, and if you start early enough, I think any disadvantage can be overcome,” Kaufmann says.

Kaufmann expects to see Walker in Iowa many times throughout the year, meeting with small groups of people in each of the state’s 99 counties. Steffen Schmidt teaches political science at Iowa State University. He says, while plenty of residents there know Walker, that’s not the case, as you distance yourself from Wisconsin.

“One weakness is he’s not as well-known as some of the others who’ve been strutting around or participated in the Caucuses, so he has to work harder to get name recognition. On the other hand, he has been in the news a lot,” Schmidt says.

In the news, Schmidt says, for pushing through Act 10. It dismantled most public unions in Wisconsin and sparked massive protests. Walker also made headlines in 2012, when he became the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall election.

While people who closely follow politics may already know enough about him to have an opinion, Walker’s lack of widespread recognition could work in his favor, according to Don Kettl, a political scientist at the University of Maryland.

“For people who are maybe tired of the round of candidates we’ve seen before, he’s a fresh face and that’s a weakness in some ways but also a strength because I suspect that this time around, people will be looking for something new,” Kettl says.

Yet Kettl says the governor might appear weak because he lacks foreign policy experience. Debates could be telling.

“In an era where there are great complexities in international affairs, big questions about what is going on in technology, questions will be raised about whether he can handle that. The proof will be in how he responds to those questions in the campaign,” Kettl says.

Kettl notes Walker is honing his knowledge of foreign affairs. In fact, just this week, he announced plans to lead trade missions to Israel and the United Kingdom.