Over the last 25 years, three legislators—all Republicans—have regularly stopped in the Capitol pressroom, inviting interviews and making sure reporters know them, and vice versa: Glenn Grothman. Joel Kleefisch. Scott Walker.
“Anybody need a quote?” Grothman would ask after drifting into the pressroom. The subject didn’t really matter. Over 20 years, he moved from the state Assembly to the state Senate to the U.S. House of Representatives.
A former TV news reporter, Kleefisch enjoys trading barbs with Capitol journalists, who sometimes take his picture for social-media posts when he’s clad in full hunter-green camouflage or wearing shoes or ties of many colors. His stops often turn into on-the-record interviews.
Walker’s pressroom visits came after 1993, when the 25-year-old won a special Assembly election, and 2002, when he was elected Milwaukee County executive. It was obvious then that he intended to ride politics as far as it would take him. He has.
Now, after winning three elections to get and keep the job of governor, and a 2015 run for president, Walker doesn’t make pressroom stops. He can choose who interviews him and when. Days after his 50th birthday, he announced his bid to seek a third four-year term in November 2018.
Whatever you may think of him, Scott Kevin Walker is a historical figure in Wisconsin politics. Time to consider parts of six-year legacy.
Staying on message. Capitol veterans say Walker’s ability to stay on message with a short, positive sound bite is one reason for his success.
Consider three bullet points he made in his Waukesha County re-election announcement: More people are working than ever before. We have cut taxes by some $8 billion by the end of 2018. Wisconsin just received its best tax ranking in more than 50 years.
Since Walker has never been a policy wonk, he’s willing to negotiate away big goals after announcing them. Consider that his plan for a 5 percent UW System tuition cut went nowhere in the Legislature. And lawmakers also killed his plan to have state government self-insure for health care.
But Walker also won’t budge after laying down his bottom lines: No increase in the gas tax or $75 annual vehicle registration fee. And, he won’t sign a budget that raises the net property tax bill on a median-valued Wisconsin home.
Fundraising. Since announcing for governor in 2009, Walker’s campaign committees have raised a stunning $104.1 million, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
How that number breaks down: 2010 run for governor, $11.1 million; campaign to survive 2012 recall, $37.4 million; 2014 re-election, $34.4 million; 71-day run for President, $9.5 million; and fundraising through June 30 for his third-term bid, $11.7 million.
Walker is on track to raise and spend $40 million or more in the year before voters pick their next governor. That doesn’t include help from independent groups.
Re-election margins. Walker is happy with getting just enough votes to win, unlike four-term Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, who insisted that his campaigns roll up a bigger winning margin every four years.
Instead, Walker won with 52-percent margins in 2010 and 2014, and 53 percent in the recall election of 2012.
Those are “narrow but consistent wins,” noted Marquette University Law School pollster and political scientist Charles Franklin.
“The risk he faces is that a swing of just 3-4 percentage points would put him under 50 percent,” Franklin said, adding, “The challenge for Democrats is that their critique of Walker for the past three elections has failed to move voters by more than a single percentage point. What campaign theme in 2018 will be more effective than the last three they’ve tried?”
Popularity. Walker’s job-approval ratings in Marquette polls have ranged from a career-sinking 37 percent in September 2015, when he stopped running for president, to a 52 percent just before the 2012 recall election.
Does Franklin think wins last week by Democrats running for governor in Virginia and New Jersey could be an anti-President Trump cloud over Walker’s re-election?
“National forces still can lift one party at the expense of the other,” Franklin said. “The unknown is whether Virginia was the peak of national forces or just the prelude to a 2018 wave.”
Let’s end with a trivia question: What was Walker’s 2010 campaign slogan?
“Lower Taxes. Higher Standards.”