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Politics / politics

Meet the GOP's Newest Rising Star

Presidential hopefuls already clamoring to grab a piece of his coattails

Move over, Chris Christie: Scott Walker is the GOP's new favorite governor.(Brian Kersey-Pool/Getty Images)

photo of Beth Reinhard
February 21, 2011

Walker Prepares for Address to Wisconsin Residents

 

Updated at 8:39 a.m. on February 22.

A head-on collision with the labor movement has turned the rookie Republican governor of a Midwestern state into an overnight superstar.

Barely a month after his inauguration, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker already has prospective presidential candidates stampeding to help him. In today's turbocharged political climate, fueled by constant chatter on cable television and the Internet, can talk of a vice presidential bid be far behind for the man who two months ago was a little-known county executive?

 

“If you had suggested that about Scott Walker 10 days [ago] it would have seemed incomprehensible,’’ Byron Shafer, political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told National Journal. “Stay tuned and ask me again in another 10 days."

Walker was the lead guest on Fox News Sunday; on Monday, MSNBC boasted of a “cable exclusive’’ with him. He's become one of the most sought-after politicians in the country ever since his plan to balance Wisconsin's budget by slashing labor costs sparked days of protests by tens of thousands of union workers in the state capitol.

Likely presidential candidates from Rick Santorum to Tim Pawlenty to Mitt Romney have clamored to offer support. Organized labor is a favorite target of the right, making Walker's fight a popular rallying point. Not to mention that budget balancing has become sacred political ground for the Republican Party.

Enhancing Walker's potential as a kingmaker: His state's potentially pivotal role in 2012. Wisconsin hasn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1984, but close elections in 2000 and 2004 have made it a battleground state.

Walker has an opportunity to capitalize on his new national platform at the National Governors Association’s upcoming annual winter meeting, which starts Saturday in Washington. Walker’s staff, which has been fielding about 80 requests a day from the national media, said he has not decided yet whether to attend.

“He’s made it pretty clear that he’s focused on balancing the budget, and that’s all,’’ said spokesman Cullen Werwie.

Shafer said it’s too soon to know how Walker will stack up next to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was elected in 2009 and whose own bold austerity moves had made him the hottest Republican governor on the national stage -- at least until last week. Nor is it easy to predict the long-term career implications of the painful cuts both governors say they have to make. 

“Gov. Walker has got a big set of policy problems,’’ Shafer said. “It’s hard to know how anyone comes out of this without looking bloodied.’’

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