Transportation, Approval Ratings Among the Challenges Walker Faces in Weighing Third Bid

Nov 30, 2016

Gov. Scott Walker is strongly hinting that he’ll run for a third term in 2018. 

Walker swept into office in the tea party wave of 2010, while Republicans took both houses of the Legislature. He dropped jaws when he announced he would gut public unions, then he was able to pass other landmark pieces of legislation, including statewide expansion of voucher schools. But, there are challenges ahead, should he decide to mount another campaign.

Gov. Walker’s latest signal that he’ll run for a third term, happened during a Facebook live chat earlier this month. He took questions from supporters.

“Let’s see, Luke is wondering if I would take a cabinet position under the Trump administration. The simple answer is no. I have to tell you, I love being governor. It’s one of my greatest joys and honors serving the people of this great state,” Walker says.

There’s no doubt Walker is gearing up for another bid in 2018, according to JR Ross. He’s editor of the online political magazine WisPolitics.com. Ross says there have already been telltale signs, such as campaign finance reports from the past year.

“They began putting things in place, they started doing some fundraisers, kind of a just in case thing,” Ross says.

Ross thinks fundraising efforts will ramp up throughout 2017 and expects Walker to make a formal announcement in summer. He predicts one of the issues Walker would highlight – his efforts to reform government assistance programs.

“Things like drug testing of some able bodied adults on food stamps,” Ross says. But, Ross believes one item that would dog Walker is his approval ratings. He says the governor would have to get them to come up.

“His numbers aren’t very good right now. Gov. Walker left the presidential campaign trail 14 months ago. We’ve not seen significant movement. They’ve gotten a little better but he’s still not close to 50 percent for job approval ratings. That’s problem number one,” Ross says.

“If I could point to one issue that I think will be a dominant issue between now and 2018 from both Democrats and Republicans’ perspective is transportation.”

Marquette University Political Scientist Paul Nolette thinks Walker’s numbers may pick up, if he can sell his ability to fix a $1 billion deficit in the transportation budget. The new two-year budget will be Walker’s first order of business when the new Legislature is seated in January.

“He clearly wants to tout whatever solution comes out of the transportation debate. He wants to frame this as look, I’ve managed to solve this problem without raising any taxes or raising any fees,” Nolette says.

But, Nolette says Walker may face pushback from GOP lawmakers.  While Walker doesn't want to increase taxes to plug the hole in the transportation budget, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has said it's irresponsible to delay projects and borrow huge amounts of money.  

Another factor that might play a role in the Wisconsin governor’s race is Donald Trump’s approval ratings after two years as president. Lilly Goren of Carroll University says history has shown that if voters are unhappy with Trump, a ripple effect could result.

“The mid-term elections are ones that can be volatile for the party in power. We saw that of course during the Obama administration and we’ve seen that during most administrations and it can in fact impact governor’s races even though they are a little bit disconnected from it, in a way that House and Senate races may not be,” Goren says.

In the meantime, a handful of Democrats have signaled they’re thinking of challenging Walker in 2018. Those include a couple state senators past and present: Tim Cullen and Kathleen Vinehout.