He Shall Not Be Moved

There’s no obvious reason that Scott Walker should be president. And yet.

Scott Walker Illustration
National Journal
Tim Alberta
June 18, 2014, 4 p.m.

When Scott Walk­er won the gov­ernor­ship of Wis­con­sin in 2010, state Demo­crats re­acted with a col­lect­ive shrug, but Tim Cul­len was per­haps the least con­cerned of all. The re­tired state sen­at­or had known Walk­er since 1993, when the two spent a series of sum­mer even­ings sit­ting to­geth­er on con­crete benches out­side a Janes­ville hos­pit­al that was caring for both Cul­len’s moth­er and Walk­er’s fath­er. The men hadn’t talked polit­ics, but they’d talked plenty, and Cul­len had been im­pressed with, and grown fond of, the easy­going rook­ie as­sembly­man.

Cul­len learned of Walk­er’s 2010 vic­tory as he was en­joy­ing his own. The state Sen­ate’s former Demo­crat­ic ma­jor­ity lead­er had just re­turned to polit­ics and re­taken his old seat. That meant he’d no longer be watch­ing Walk­er; he’d be work­ing with him. But Cul­len had teamed up with Re­pub­lic­ans in Madis­on be­fore. And Demo­crats who had served with Walk­er in the Le­gis­lature already liked him; he was a friendly, fa­mil­i­ar face who hadn’t ex­actly run on a rad­ic­al plat­form. It ap­peared that both sides would get along just fine.

Walk­er, however, had oth­er plans. In Decem­ber, a month after he was elec­ted, he told guests at a Mil­wau­kee Press Club lunch­eon that he in­ten­ded to curb the power of pub­lic-sec­tor uni­ons. In fact, he said, he might even “de­cer­ti­fy” — es­sen­tially, dis­band — them. But no one seems to have taken him ser­i­ously. Then, in Janu­ary 2011, two weeks after tak­ing the oath of of­fice, he vis­ited a roof­ing, win­dow, and sid­ing dis­tri­bu­tion com­pany owned by bil­lion­aire Di­ane Hendricks, a ma­jor donor to his cam­paign. In a con­ver­sa­tion video­taped by a doc­u­ment­ary film­maker but not made pub­lic un­til more than a year later, Hendricks asked Walk­er wheth­er he was go­ing to take on the uni­ons and per­haps even make Wis­con­sin a right-to-work state — that is, a state which pro­hib­its uni­ons from mak­ing their em­ploy­ees pay dues. “Well, we’re go­ing to start in a couple weeks with our budget-ad­just­ment bill,” Walk­er replied. “The first step is, we’re go­ing to deal with col­lect­ive bar­gain­ing for all pub­lic-em­ploy­ee uni­ons, be­cause you use di­vide and con­quer. “… That opens the door once we do that.”

Demo­crats in the Cap­it­ol nev­er saw it com­ing. “For the first five or six weeks” of Walk­er’s ad­min­is­tra­tion “it was pretty much busi­ness as usu­al,” Cul­len re­calls. “And then everything changed with the col­lect­ive-bar­gain­ing bill.” The Wis­con­sin Budget Re­pair Bill, known more com­monly as Act 10, fell like a flash­bang on Madis­on. The state faced a $3.6 bil­lion de­fi­cit, and Walk­er had cam­paigned on a pledge to rein in gov­ern­ment spend­ing by for­cing pub­lic-sec­tor em­ploy­ees to con­trib­ute more of their salar­ies to their pen­sions and health care pack­ages. He had not, however, dis­closed how he would achieve these con­ces­sions. While his top staffers spent the first month of his term pre­par­ing to ne­go­ti­ate with the uni­ons, the new gov­ernor was quietly get­ting ready to do the op­pos­ite. One late-Janu­ary af­ter­noon, Walk­er gathered his staff and shared his plan: He wanted to elim­in­ate all as­pects of col­lect­ive bar­gain­ing and ban pub­lic em­ploy­ees from con­trib­ut­ing to uni­ons or main­tain­ing mem­ber­ship in them.

Mem­bers of Code Pink protest as Walk­er ap­pears be­fore the House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee. (Getty Im­ages)The new gov­ernor’s staff was dumb­foun­ded, ac­cord­ing to Madis­on Re­pub­lic­ans and Walk­er him­self, who re­calls the scene in his re­cently pub­lished mem­oir, Un­in­tim­id­ated. So were the top Re­pub­lic­ans in the State­house, with whom Walk­er shared his ini­tial pro­pos­al. Some of them warned Walk­er — gov­ernor of the state that birthed pub­lic-sec­tor uni­ons in 1939 — that the move would back­fire, and that he would be cast as an en­emy of work­ers.

Walk­er listened and made a few key ad­just­ments. (The re­vised plan al­lowed pub­lic-sec­tor work­ers to join uni­ons and pay dues, but made dues vol­un­tary; it also al­lowed very lim­ited col­lect­ive bar­gain­ing.) He briefed the rest of the Re­pub­lic­an caucus on his pro­pos­al, and then, a few days later, he in­vited the state’s two top Demo­crat­ic le­gis­lat­ors — Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mark Miller and As­sembly Minor­ity Lead­er Peter Barca — to his Cap­it­ol of­fice. He ex­plained his plan, and in­formed his guests that he would be pub­licly in­tro­du­cing it later that af­ter­noon.

“I was stunned. Just stunned,” Barca re­calls. “Be­cause he didn’t cam­paign on that.” He and Miller tried frantic­ally to dis­suade Walk­er, plead­ing with him to re­con­sider. The gov­ernor wouldn’t budge. With in­creas­ing dis­may, Miller and Barca began to un­der­stand something about Scott Walk­er that many oth­ers have also learned the hard way. “Once his mind is made up,” Barca says, “he doesn’t give an inch on any­thing.”

Des­per­ate to block the bill, Miller and his Sen­ate Demo­crats did the only thing they could think of: They fled the state. The sen­at­ors checked in­to a Best West­ern across the bor­der in Rock­ford, Illinois, de­term­ined to rob the cham­ber of the quor­um it needed to pass any le­gis­la­tion re­lated to fisc­al mat­ters — in­clud­ing Walk­er’s Budget Re­pair Bill. They would not re­turn, they said, un­less Walk­er re­moved the col­lect­ive-bar­gain­ing lan­guage from the le­gis­la­tion. In re­sponse, Walk­er pressed Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans to ex­cise the fisc­al parts of the bill, so that the uni­on-bust­ing meas­ures could be passed without a quor­um.

By then, more than 100,000 pro­test­ers had des­cen­ded upon the Cap­it­ol, with thou­sands of them camp­ing out un­der the ro­tunda. They bar­ri­caded hall­ways and sang pro-uni­on songs. Walk­er had made prac­tic­ally no at­tempt to ex­plain Act 10 to the pub­lic when it was in­tro­duced — a de­cision he would come to count as his biggest mis­take of the en­tire epis­ode — and the op­pos­i­tion quickly turned pub­lic opin­ion against it. Walk­er and his fam­ily began to re­ceive death threats. Re­pub­lic­ans not only feared the polit­ic­al back­lash Walk­er’s le­gis­lat­ive trick might pro­voke, they feared for their safety. They re­fused to do as he asked.

The gov­ernor, mean­while, re­mained un­flap­pable. He held press con­fer­ences de­fend­ing his pro­pos­al, but oth­er­wise went about his busi­ness, seem­ingly im­mune to the pan­de­moni­um around him. Rep. Paul Ry­an, who says he spoke or texted with Walk­er every day dur­ing the epis­ode, couldn’t be­lieve how col­lec­ted his friend was. “He took on the most fierce polit­ic­al op­pos­i­tion I have ever seen any­one en­dure in polit­ics. And he did it grace­fully, he did it without malice, he did it without re­spond­ing in kind to his de­tract­ors,” Ry­an says.

Barca re­mem­bers hold­ing a press con­fer­ence dur­ing which he blas­ted Walk­er in es­pe­cially harsh and per­son­al terms for di­vid­ing the state. “I met with him the next day, and you’d nev­er know I said those things,” he re­calls. “There was no ten­sion at all.” Barca laughs, then lets out a long sigh. “He just doesn’t take things per­son­ally.”

Know­ing that Demo­crats ex­pec­ted him to make the next move, Walk­er dis­patched two seni­or aides to meet with Cul­len and Bob Jauch, an­oth­er Demo­crat­ic sen­at­or, near the Illinois bor­der. Both sides agree that Walk­er was genu­inely hop­ing they would find enough room for com­prom­ise, at least on the peri­pher­ies of the bill, to per­suade the Demo­crats to re­turn to the Cap­it­ol. The gov­ernor’s aides ne­go­ti­ated earn­estly, wad­ing deeply in­to the com­plex le­gis­la­tion. Yet the sen­at­ors’ dir­ect in­ter­ac­tions with Walk­er — lim­ited to sporad­ic phone calls placed from the gov­ernor’s res­id­ence — were short, awk­ward, and “totally without sub­stance,” Cul­len re­mem­bers.

As­sembly Minor­ity Lead­er Peter Barca: “Once his mind is made up, he doesn’t give an inch on any­thing.”

“Our con­ver­sa­tions were just pleas­ant­ries,” he says of the calls between Wis­con­sin and Illinois. “It was strange. I mean really, it didn’t move the ball for­ward or back­ward. It was nice to hear from the gov­ernor, and nice to talk with him, but it be­came clear that he wasn’t go­ing to be the de­tail guy at all.”

Cul­len and Jauch began to ac­cept that there was noth­ing they could say to Walk­er or his ne­go­ti­at­ors that would change the gov­ernor’s mind about the col­lect­ive-bar­gain­ing lan­guage, so they set out to find someone who could. They spent weeks hav­ing private con­ver­sa­tions with col­leagues in the Re­pub­lic­an es­tab­lish­ment — old bud­dies with whom they had worked for dec­ades — try­ing to find a way to reach Walk­er. In their years of pub­lic ser­vice, the sen­at­ors had learned that every of­fice­hold­er has someone they listen to — a con­fid­ant or ad­viser who can in­flu­ence their think­ing. But as the weeks wore on and their back-chan­nel out­reach cam­paign turned up noth­ing, they came to a start­ling con­clu­sion: Walk­er had no such per­son. He was his own top ad­viser, his own chief strategist. “Tim and I both were strug­gling with who he is — with his hid­den per­son­al­ity,” Jauch says. “If you ask the ques­tion of who guides Scott Walk­er, I don’t know that any­body knows the an­swer.”

One day while he was in Illinois, Cul­len re­ceived a call from Walk­er that he hasn’t for­got­ten. “I heard you were sick,” Walk­er said to Cul­len, who had in­deed been fight­ing a cold. Cul­len told Walk­er that he was re­cov­er­ing and thanked him for his con­cern. The call ended with­in a few minutes. As Cul­len re­mem­bers it, that af­ter­noon Walk­er began a press con­fer­ence by ad­dress­ing a ques­tion about wheth­er he’d been in con­tact with the out-of-state sen­at­ors. Yes, Walk­er said. In fact, just that morn­ing he’d had a con­ver­sa­tion with Cul­len. “I was set up,” Cul­len says. (One of Walk­er’s ne­go­ti­at­ors, who asked not to be named, ac­cuses Cul­len of en­ga­ging in “re­vi­sion­ist his­tory” and de­scribes that phone call as “pos­it­ive.”)

When it be­came clear that neither the ab­sent­ee Demo­crats nor the gov­ernor planned to back down, Re­pub­lic­an law­makers fi­nally did what Walk­er wanted: They sep­ar­ated the col­lect­ive-bar­gain­ing lan­guage from the fisc­al meas­ures and ap­proved the bill. Walk­er signed it ex­actly one month after in­tro­du­cing it. The sen­at­ors re­turned to Madis­on and, in con­cert with or­gan­ized labor and pro­gress­ive act­iv­ists from around the coun­try, did everything pos­sible to re­verse the law. They filed mul­tiple court ap­peals. They at­temp­ted to un­seat a con­ser­vat­ive state Su­preme Court justice. They de­man­ded a series of re­call elec­tions aimed at re­mov­ing six GOP state sen­at­ors and Walk­er him­self. While two of the Sen­ate re­calls were suc­cess­ful, the ef­fort to oust Walk­er was not. In the end, Walk­er was still gov­ernor, and Act 10 was law. The nice young man from the con­crete benches out­side the Janes­ville hos­pit­al had crushed Wis­con­sin’s pub­lic-sec­tor uni­ons and trans­formed the state’s polit­ic­al land­scape.

Uni­on mem­bers protest in­side the Wis­con­sin State Cap­it­ol on March 4, 2011, in Madis­on. (Getty Im­ages)IT’S A SOGGY spring day in Dodgeville, Wis­con­sin, and Scott Walk­er is the only one of us wear­ing boots. He strides se­curely over the mist-slickened stones at the edge of a pond on the new fish farm he has come to christen — part of the Wis­con­sin Wal­leye Ini­ti­at­ive he helped green-light last year — while his staff, his se­cur­ity per­son­nel, and I tread gingerly in our trac­tion-less loafers. Un­like the rest of us, Walk­er knew what he was get­ting in­to be­fore he ar­rived here. And, as the Boy Scout motto en­joins, he came pre­pared.

Still youth­ful-look­ing at 46, of av­er­age height and build, with curi­ously small hands and a soft, nas­al voice that nev­er seems to rise — even when hit­ting the high note of a speech or de­liv­er­ing the punch line of a joke — Walk­er, wear­ing jeans and a heavy barn jack­et, melds ef­fort­lessly in­to the cam­ou­flage-clad crowd. His pale skin con­trasts sharply with his black hair, which has re­ceded a bit above his temples and en­tirely aban­doned the crown of his head. Un­der a steel-gray sky, Walk­er makes his way from one per­son to the next, greet­ing each with a smile and a gentle hello. With­in minutes he’s eli­cit­ing laughs about the al­legedly lackluster fish­ing in neigh­bor­ing Min­nesota. He tells tales of hunt­ing trips, Har­ley rides, and how he caught “a 14-inch” wal­leye on his first cast of last year’s sea­son. When it’s time for him to de­liv­er re­marks at the ground­break­ing, he does so quickly and in­form­ally, speak­ing in nearly in­aud­ible tones. The crowd of a few dozen claps po­litely when he fin­ishes. Then they be­gin mi­grat­ing across the prop­erty, where the gov­ernor will drop fish eggs in­to a pond.

Walk­er doesn’t seem like a man who is likely to be elec­ted gov­ernor this Novem­ber for the third time in four years — let alone one who is con­sidered a top-tier con­tender for the Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial nom­in­a­tion. He’s not a schol­arly policy wonk like Bobby Jin­dal. He doesn’t have the dyn­ast­ic re­sources of Jeb Bush or Rand Paul. He isn’t a skill­ful orator like Marco Ru­bio or Ted Cruz. Nor is he a com­mand­ing, cha­ris­mat­ic pres­ence like his friend Chris Christie. He is, in fact, more like a re­verse Christie: The New Jer­sey gov­ernor is bel­li­ger­ent on the out­side and mod­er­ate on the in­side; Walk­er is a rock-ribbed con­ser­vat­ive in a gen­i­al, un­ex­cep­tion­al pack­age.

That’s what makes Walk­er’s po­lar­iz­ing polit­ics seem so strange. The uni­on fight left Wis­con­sin bit­terly di­vided, but, un­like Christie, Walk­er doesn’t be­have like a brawl­er. In in­ter­views with dozens of of­fi­cials, aides, and act­iv­ists from both parties, it was hard to find any­one who could muster a neg­at­ive word about Walk­er the man — even among those who make a liv­ing be­rat­ing Walk­er the gov­ernor. “I’ll be hon­est with you,” says Mike Tate, chair­man of the Wis­con­sin Demo­crat­ic Party. “He’s just a very pleas­ant guy.”

Be­ing a pleas­ant guy — agree­able, in­of­fens­ive — isn’t an ob­vi­ous polit­ic­al strength, but it has been one for Walk­er. His soft-spoken nature and his hum­drum per­son­al style have led his op­pon­ents re­peatedly to un­der­es­tim­ate his am­bi­tion, his de­term­in­a­tion, and his stra­tegic skill. And as his hand­ling of the Act 10 fight re­vealed, Walk­er’s in­noc­u­ous bear­ing has al­lowed him to move calmly to­ward his prey without start­ling it.

Jauch, whose ca­reer in Madis­on has spanned five gov­ernors, knew Walk­er when he was a young as­sembly­man, and the two worked closely to­geth­er as chair­men of their cham­bers’ re­spect­ive Cor­rec­tions com­mit­tees. He likes Walk­er per­son­ally, but has come to fear him polit­ic­ally: “I think any­one who’s hon­est will ac­know­ledge that he’s very per­son­able. He’s a very pleas­ant in­di­vidu­al to be with, and to speak with.” The Demo­crat stops ab­ruptly, search­ing for the per­fect way to cap­ture the conun­drum. “He has an al­tar boy’s ap­pear­ance,” Jauch fi­nally says. “But Darth Vader writes his policies.”

“He has an al­tar boy’s ap­pear­ance. But Darth Vader writes his policies.”

If Walk­er’s friendly, down-to-earth per­sona is some­how an act meant to lull his polit­ic­al foes, he in­hab­its the role like Daniel Day-Lewis pre­par­ing to play Lin­coln. He greets guests at the gov­ernor’s res­id­ence by hanging up their coats and bring­ing them glasses of wa­ter. He buys bleach­er seats at Mil­wau­kee Brew­ers games and en­joys a Lein­en­ku­gel beer with the loc­als. He packs two ham sand­wiches in­to a brown pa­per bag every day for lunch. He rides his Har­ley wear­ing a full hel­met and in­ter­acts an­onym­ously with oth­er mo­tor­ists. He mows the lawn of the small, non­des­cript home he still owns a few miles out­side Mil­wau­kee wear­ing jean shorts and torn-up Nik­es.

“We al­ways got along just fine — and we still do to this day, frankly,” says Barca, the Demo­crat­ic as­sembly lead­er. “He’s very af­fable, easy to talk to, easy to get along with. And I think that’s part of his polit­ic­al suc­cess. It’s very dis­arm­ing.” Which is ex­actly what his 2016 rivals should be wor­ried about.

IN THE PENT­HOUSE suite of the Hy­att Re­gency Hotel in down­town Mil­wau­kee, where the Re­pub­lic­an Party of Wis­con­sin’s an­nu­al re­treat is be­ing held, Walk­er is sip­ping from a mini­ature bottle of cran­berry juice and telling me about his child­hood. His moth­er, Pa­tri­cia, grew up on a farm without in­door plumb­ing, a prop­erty that fam­ily lore held was the only pur­chase they ever made on cred­it. His grand­moth­er, Elean­or Fitch, was a com­mand­ing and con­stant pres­ence in his life who bought everything else — vehicles, farm equip­ment, ap­pli­ances, cloth­ing, even food — only when she had enough cash. “Don’t spend money you don’t have, Scott,” he says she of­ten ad­mon­ished — a credo that pretty well sum­mar­izes his fisc­al policy today.

What money the Walk­ers did have wasn’t much. “We didn’t real­ize it un­til later in life,” Walk­er says of him­self and his young­er broth­er, Dav­id, “but we were poor.” The fam­ily didn’t even own a TV. But most of the mem­bers of the Baptist church where Walk­er’s fath­er, Llewellyn, was the pas­tor were farm­ers; be­cause of that, Walk­er says, “we ate like kings.” His fam­ily had a shelf re­served at the town’s walk-in cool­er, and pa­rish­ion­ers kept it stocked. “We would have good corn, nice cuts of meat some­times, plenty of fresh bread,” he adds, with a flick­er of emo­tion.

Mar­quette stu­dent Scott Walk­er, 1990. (Mar­quette Uni­versity Lib­rar­ies/De­part­ment of Spe­cial Col­lec­tions and Uni­versity Archives)Walk­er was 3 when his fam­ily moved from Col­or­ado Springs, Col­or­ado, to Plain­field, Iowa, where they lived in the par­son­age at­tached to the church. Llewellyn preached on Sundays and spent the rest of the week tend­ing to his small flock. Pa­tri­cia worked part time keep­ing the books for a cloth­ing store. They fi­nally bought a black-and-white TV in time for Scott to watch Ger­ald Ford, his fath­er’s pre­ferred can­did­ate, lose the 1976 pres­id­en­tial race. Scott began to ask Llewellyn — who served on the City Coun­cil — to ex­plain loc­al policy de­bates.

The Walk­ers moved to Delavan, Wis­con­sin, a slightly less isol­ated ag­ri­cul­tur­al town, when Scott was in third grade. He kept up his in­terest in polit­ics, but as he grew older people as­sumed it was just a lark; every­one knew Scott was go­ing to go in­to the fam­ily busi­ness. From a young age, he took part in his fath­er’s wor­ship ser­vices, start­ing with Scrip­ture read­ings and call-and-re­sponse rituals. As he grew older, he oc­ca­sion­ally stepped in­to the pul­pit and preached full ser­mons in his fath­er’s place. He grew so com­fort­able in the role that oth­er pas­tors would ask him to speak when they were away. Church­go­ers in Delavan figured it was only a mat­ter of time be­fore Scott was shipped off to the sem­in­ary.

Scott, however, be­haved like a boy who was still search­ing — and his ap­proach was both sys­tem­at­ic and ex­haust­ive. He joined prac­tic­ally every sports team and ex­tra­cur­ricular or­gan­iz­a­tion that Delavan-Dari­en High School had to of­fer — from the for­eign-lan­guage and lib­rary clubs to the pep band and sym­phon­ic or­ches­tra. He played foot­ball and ran track and cross-coun­try. He also played bas­ket­ball, some­times wear­ing a pair of Kurt Rambis-style goggles on the court. Keith Showers, who was Walk­er’s track team­mate, re­calls him fondly. “He was al­ways a sharp guy, and a genu­inely nice per­son,” Showers says. (Also “pretty quick,” he adds.) When he learned that Walk­er had been elec­ted gov­ernor of Wis­con­sin, Showers, who now lives in Or­lando, Flor­ida, “was sur­prised, but not that sur­prised — be­cause to my re­col­lec­tion Scott al­ways had a plan to do something big.”

Tom Schar­fen­berg, who was the phys-ed teach­er and ath­let­ic dir­ect­or at Delavan-Dari­en, and who knew the Walk­er fam­ily well, re­calls that Walk­er the ath­lete wasn’t es­pe­cially gif­ted, but he was self-aware — and he really wanted to win. “He was a good track run­ner, and that was about it. And he knew it,” Schar­fen­berg says. “But he was a very com­pet­it­ive per­son. I can’t even re­mem­ber what race he ran, but he be­came a good run­ner.” (Schar­fen­berg’s warm feel­ings about Walk­er don’t ex­tend to his former stu­dent’s polit­ics. “Be­ing a re­tired teach­er, and see­ing what he’s done to the teach­ers, I’ve lost a bit of re­spect for him,” he says.)

Walk­er was 17 and sport­ing an ex­em­plary mul­let when he took his first trip to Wash­ing­ton. It was 1985, and the Eagle Scout had already rep­res­en­ted his town at Badger Boys State, an Amer­ic­an Le­gion pro­gram that brought to­geth­er hun­dreds of Wis­con­sin high school stu­dents for a weeklong in­ter­act­ive sem­in­ar on gov­ern­ment. There, he and an­oth­er boy had been se­lec­ted to be Wis­con­sin’s “sen­at­ors” at the Boys Na­tion event in Wash­ing­ton, where they would be joined by pairs of stu­dent sen­at­ors from oth­er states. Walk­er re­mem­bers be­ing cap­tiv­ated by the cap­it­al, with its build­ings and monu­ments that ra­di­ated power and prestige. Yet something else struck him dur­ing that vis­it, too: that Wash­ing­ton’s lead­ers were just or­din­ary people. There was noth­ing su­per­hu­man, or even par­tic­u­larly ex­cep­tion­al, about them. It was an epi­phany that changed the way he un­der­stood him­self and his po­ten­tial. “I sud­denly had a dif­fer­ent view of what my fu­ture might hold,” he says.

“I’m a policy guy my­self. Per­son­ally, I put up with polit­ics to do policy,” Paul Ry­an says. “But Scott en­joys the sport of it as well. And he’s been very good at it.”

By the time he went to Boys Na­tion, Walk­er knew that he didn’t want to be a min­is­ter — “it wasn’t my call­ing,” he says — and he was less than en­thu­si­ast­ic about his fall­back plan, a ca­reer in sales. After the Wash­ing­ton trip, he turned to polit­ics. His pas­sion for strategy and tac­tics would soon be­come ap­par­ent to every­one he en­countered in Re­pub­lic­an circles, in­clud­ing a young con­ser­vat­ive act­iv­ist named Paul Ry­an. (Walk­er and Ry­an grew up in nearby towns and hung out at many of the same spots. Each worked at his re­spect­ive loc­al Mc­Don­alds. But they didn’t meet un­til a state Re­pub­lic­an con­ven­tion in the early 1990s.) “I’m a policy guy my­self. Per­son­ally, I put up with polit­ics to do policy,” Ry­an says. “But Scott en­joys the sport of it as well. And he’s been very good at it.”

Walk­er’s stra­tegic skills wer­en’t en­tirely evid­ent at first. He was a sopho­more lead­ing an an­ti­abor­tion group at Mil­wau­kee’s Mar­quette Uni­versity in 1988 when he de­cided to run his first polit­ic­al race, for stu­dent-gov­ern­ment pres­id­ent. The cam­paign be­came heated, and on elec­tion eve, the school news­pa­per, the Mar­quette Tribune, en­dorsed Walk­er’s rival — prompt­ing some angry Walk­er al­lies to empty news­stands around cam­pus, ac­cord­ing to an in­vest­ig­a­tion of his col­lege ca­reer that was pub­lished years later by the Mil­wau­kee Journ­al Sen­tinel and Poli­ti­Fact Wis­con­sin. The epis­ode was the first in what would prove to be a pat­tern of dam­aging mis­steps made by those who at­tached them­selves to Walk­er and his polit­ic­al ap­par­at­us. The stu­dent pa­per prin­ted a scath­ing ed­it­or­i­al the next day con­demning the Walk­er sup­port­ers’ tac­tics, and he lost the elec­tion.

Walk­er and Rep. Paul Ry­an (right) listen as Mitt Rom­ney speaks dur­ing a cam­paign event in 2012. (Getty Im­ages)A de­feated Walk­er took a part-time job selling com­puter war­ranties with IBM for $10 an hour, and then a full-time job with the Amer­ic­an Red Cross. He says he in­ten­ded to con­tin­ue to work to­ward his de­gree a few cred­its at a time, “but it be­came ob­vi­ous after a while there was no way.” Walk­er faced a di­lemma: He could quit the job and fin­ish school, or he could stay em­ployed and leave school without his de­gree. Walk­er, who grew up poor and had watched friends struggle to find work after col­lege, says the de­cision wasn’t too dif­fi­cult. “You go to col­lege for an edu­ca­tion, not just a job,” he says. “But I think, par­tic­u­larly at that age, most of us were stress­ing out about find­ing a job.” He dropped out of Mar­quette after the spring semester of 1990, cer­tain that he would someday com­plete his de­gree. (So far, he has not.)

Walk­er might have been too busy for school, but he found plenty of time for polit­ics, work­ing with fel­low Re­pub­lic­ans on cam­pus and around Mil­wau­kee. In Janu­ary 1990, he vo­lun­teered for the primary cam­paign of the most so­cially con­ser­vat­ive can­did­ate in a state As­sembly race, dur­ing which he met and be­friended Brad Court­ney, who today chairs the state Re­pub­lic­an Party. That same year, Re­pub­lic­ans needed a can­did­ate to com­pete in a heav­ily Demo­crat­ic state As­sembly dis­trict, and Walk­er jumped at the op­por­tun­ity to chal­lenge the in­cum­bent, Gwen Moore, who today rep­res­ents Mil­wau­kee in the U.S. House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives. Wis­con­sin Re­pub­lic­ans say Walk­er knew he couldn’t win, but thought his stint as sac­ri­fi­cial lamb would build good­will with the state party.

Moore doesn’t buy it. “He thought he could win, be­cause he was white, good-look­ing, and young,” she says, de­scrib­ing Walk­er as “very self-as­sured and very self-im­port­ant.” Moore’s an­ger rises when she re­calls his cam­paign against her. She la­bels his use of tough-on-crime rhet­or­ic against a black in­cum­bent in an over­whelm­ingly white dis­trict “dog whistle” polit­ics. (Walk­er’s of­fice de­clined to com­ment on Moore’s ac­cus­a­tions.) Moore clobbered him at the bal­lot box, and she says Walk­er nev­er placed a con­ces­sion call on elec­tion night. It would turn out to be a rare ex­ample of Walk­er mak­ing a per­son­al en­emy of a polit­ic­al one.

WALK­ER’S WIFE LIKES to tell the story of their court­ship, which began in 1992 in a smoky karaoke bar called Saz’s on the West Side of Mil­wau­kee. The tale prof­fers Walk­er as a charm­ingly de­term­ined reg­u­lar Joe, but it also hints at the ali­en-in­va­sion, res­ist­ance-is-fu­tile side of him that Cul­len and his Demo­crat­ic col­leagues de­scribed en­coun­ter­ing dur­ing the Act 10 fight.

Walk­er and his wife, Tonette, in 2012. (Getty Im­ages)Dur­ing the course of the even­ing, Walk­er, then 24 and built like a dark-haired javelin, “locked eyes” with Tonette Tarant­ino, a doe-eyed wo­man known for her in­fec­tious giggle. Be­fore he left, Walk­er dropped a nap­kin with his num­ber on it on her table and po­litely asked her to call him. Al­though Tarant­ino was a wid­ow 11 years his seni­or, she did as he re­ques­ted. Their first date, a few days later, went so well that they met again the fol­low­ing night, each ac­com­pan­ied by some friends. At one point, Tonette says, Walk­er pulled Tonette’s room­mate aside and told her that he’d found his fu­ture wife. “We were laugh­ing like crazy, like, ‘Is this guy kid­ding?’ ” Tonette says.

But Walk­er wasn’t kid­ding. He set out to learn everything he could about Tonette — and then swung in­to ac­tion. Des­pite work­ing long hours with the Red Cross, he picked her up for late-night ice cream cones. He was on time, every time, and he came bear­ing gifts. On one of their early dates, Walk­er told Tonette about his failed As­sembly bid and his in­ten­tion to run again soon. Then, she says, he looked at her and said mat­ter-of-factly: “Someday I’m go­ing to be gov­ernor.” It was the second crazy-sound­ing pre­dic­tion Walk­er had made, and Tonette says she privately laughed this one off, too. Mean­while, Tonette’s fam­ily, a Demo­crat­ic clan with uni­on ties, was wary. There were con­cerns about his age and his Re­pub­lic­an polit­ics.

None of it mattered. Walk­er soon over­came all ob­jec­tions. In Oc­to­ber, after just five months of dat­ing, Scott took Tonette back to Saz’s for karaoke night, where he ser­en­aded her with Elvis Pres­ley’s “I Can’t Help Fall­ing in Love With You” and pro­posed. They mar­ried a few months later, on a fri­gid Feb­ru­ary af­ter­noon, and Walk­er, who loves to sing (es­pe­cially on the tread­mill, where lately he’s been smit­ten with Phar­rell’s “Happy”), re­peated his Elvis im­per­son­a­tion, this time ac­com­pan­ied by a live band. Court­ney gave a grooms­man’s toast in which he re­marked on Walk­er’s per­sist­ence. “When Scott de­cides to do something,” Court­ney said, “he’s all in.”

Walk­er’s suc­cess­ful woo­ing of his wife was the start of a 22-year win­ning streak that, as of today, re­mains un­broken. It also con­tains what would be­come all the hall­marks of a Scott Walk­er cam­paign — the non­threat­en­ing ap­proach, the am­bi­tious goal, the re­lent­less de­term­in­a­tion.

In the months after their mar­riage, Walk­er, who had been wait­ing for his mo­ment to make an­oth­er bid for the State­house, saw — and seized — his op­por­tun­ity. Loc­al le­gend has it that he wore out three pairs of sneak­ers cam­paign­ing for an As­sembly seat that had opened up in Re­pub­lic­an-friendly Wauwatosa. He won the June 1993 spe­cial elec­tion at age 25.

Walk­er’s suc­cess­ful woo­ing of his wife was the start of a 22-year win­ning streak that, as of today, re­mains un­broken.

Chil­dren ar­rived quickly there­after — first Matt, then Alex — and between back­yard foot­ball games and camp­ing trips, Walk­er began to make a name for him­self in Madis­on. He chaired the lower cham­ber’s Cor­rec­tions Com­mit­tee and sponsored “truth-in-sen­ten­cing” le­gis­la­tion aimed at end­ing early re­leases for con­victed crim­in­als. He also fought for abor­tion re­stric­tions and for iden­ti­fic­a­tion-veri­fic­a­tion re­quire­ments at elec­tion cen­ters. And he earned a repu­ta­tion for polit­ic­al savvy. Mil­wau­kee’s ABC TV af­fil­i­ate began to bring Walk­er on as a guest ana­lyst dur­ing elec­tions, ask­ing him to break down vot­ing pat­terns and shed light on cam­paign strategy. “He was a good pun­dit,” re­calls Re­becca Kleefisch, who was an an­chor for the sta­tion at the time and is now Walk­er’s lieu­ten­ant gov­ernor.

But Walk­er didn’t want to be a pun­dit. And he didn’t want to be a ca­reer as­sembly­man. As he closed in on a dec­ade in the Le­gis­lature, it be­came in­creas­ingly clear that he needed to fig­ure out a way to break out of the pack. “There were so many people in the As­sembly who were set up to be gov­ernor,” Tonette says. “So what he would say is, ‘I don’t know what God has in store for me. But I need to have a plan.’ “

WALK­ER’S CHANCE TO move up in Wis­con­sin polit­ics came in early 2002, when Mil­wau­kee County Ex­ec­ut­ive Tom Ament re­tired ab­ruptly in the face of a pen­sion scan­dal. Walk­er shouldn’t have been able to win the spe­cial elec­tion; Mil­wau­kee County is over­whelm­ingly Demo­crat­ic, and al­though the county ex­ec­ut­ive is chosen in a non­par­tis­an elec­tion, Walk­er had already branded him­self a fisc­al con­ser­vat­ive. Some of Walk­er’s friends — in­clud­ing Ry­an, then a second-term con­gress­man from Janes­ville — thought he was crazy to run.

But Walk­er gamed out the demo­graph­ics of the county and hit com­pet­it­ive areas on foot. His friendly-neigh­bor man­ner, which lent it­self poorly to the po­di­um, was, it turned out, ir­res­ist­ible at eye level. “It was fas­cin­at­ing to watch,” says Kleefisch, who covered the race for her TV sta­tion. “And it was even more fas­cin­at­ing to watch Demo­crats come to the table and vote for this Re­pub­lic­an guy in Mil­wau­kee County.” Walk­er won the spe­cial elec­tion by 10 points. Two years later he would be elec­ted by an even wider mar­gin to serve a full four-year term. No longer would he be lumped in with the rest of the young law­makers in the Le­gis­lature; in Wis­con­sin, he was on his way to be­ing a bona fide Re­pub­lic­an star.

The new county ex­ec­ut­ive had run as a fisc­al re­former, but he soon learned that the Mil­wau­kee County Board of Su­per­visors, most of whom were Demo­crats, did not share his “less is more” ap­proach to gov­ern­ment. Walk­er re­peatedly ve­toed parts of their budgets in an at­tempt to slash spend­ing; they re­peatedly over­rode him. De­term­ined to achieve a bal­anced budget, he settled on an­oth­er strategy to cut costs: Win fin­an­cial con­ces­sions from pub­lic work­ers. Uni­on lead­ers res­isted. Walk­er warned them that lay­offs were the al­tern­at­ive. He says labor lead­ers called his bluff, dar­ing him to fire county work­ers. After sur­vey­ing the situ­ation and see­ing no oth­er ac­cept­able way to achieve his goal, he did just that. Walk­er got his bal­anced budget, but, in his book, he de­scribes the failed fight to win con­ces­sions from or­gan­ized labor as a “sear­ing ex­per­i­ence” — one he says was “the ul­ti­mate source of the re­forms I en­acted as gov­ernor.”

Walk­er would ar­gu­ably bring stronger cre­den­tials to a na­tion­al primary fight than any­one else in today’s GOP.

Sear­ing though it may have been, the battle earned Walk­er more buzz with­in Re­pub­lic­an circles, and in Feb­ru­ary 2005, after less than three years as county ex­ec­ut­ive, he launched his first gubernat­ori­al cam­paign, against Demo­crat­ic Gov. Jim Doyle. But the state’s GOP es­tab­lish­ment was be­hind Mark Green, a con­gress­man with whom Walk­er had served in the As­sembly. After 13 months of cam­paign­ing, Walk­er ac­know­ledged that he couldn’t raise enough money to win, and he knew that drag­ging things out would only hurt his fu­ture pro­spects. He told sup­port­ers in March 2006 that it was “God’s will for me to step out of the race,” and threw his sup­port to Green — who lost to Doyle by 8 points.

The abor­ted cam­paign briefly dimmed Walk­er’s star, but some sug­gest that his hand­ling of the situ­ation was part of a long pat­tern of canny stra­tegic moves. “This is a per­son who has al­ways taken ad­vant­age of his op­por­tun­it­ies,” says Charles Frank­lin, a pro­fess­or of law and pub­lic policy at Mar­quette Uni­versity and the dir­ect­or of the Mar­quette Law School Poll. “As a le­gis­lat­or he sup­por­ted some le­gis­la­tion that gained him some vis­ib­il­ity. “… Then when the county ex­ec­ut­ive of­fice opened up un­ex­pec­tedly, he was in good po­s­i­tion to seek that of­fice from the Le­gis­lature. Then in 2006, by start­ing a run for gov­ernor but back­ing away when it be­came clear that someone else was lead­er­ship’s first choice, you saw again him tak­ing ad­vant­age of an op­por­tun­ity — al­beit in an odd way — by grace­fully bow­ing out and leav­ing him­self in strong po­s­i­tion for 2010. In the end, that set him up as the heir ap­par­ent.”

In­deed, not long after win­ning reelec­tion as county ex­ec­ut­ive in 2008 with his widest mar­gin of vic­tory yet, Walk­er entered the 2010 gov­ernor’s race as the fa­vor­ite and trounced former U.S. Rep. Mark Neu­mann in the GOP primary by 20 points. In the gen­er­al elec­tion, Walk­er faced Mil­wau­kee May­or Tom Bar­rett, with whom he had clashed for the pre­vi­ous sev­er­al years. The cam­paign was com­pet­it­ive but not es­pe­cially ex­cit­ing; the only part of Walk­er’s plat­form that raised eye­brows was his pledge to cre­ate 250,000 new jobs in his first four years — a prom­ise that Demo­crats em­phas­ize he has come nowhere near ful­filling. (Ac­cord­ing to Poli­ti­Fact Wis­con­sin, “for the first three full years un­der Walk­er, the state ad­ded 91,678 jobs. That’s about one third of what he prom­ised.”) When he won the race, by nearly 6 points, no one saw what was com­ing next.

SCOTT WALK­ER IS NOT cha­ris­mat­ic. He did not gradu­ate from col­lege. He is charm­ing in small groups but un­re­mark­able in front of large crowds. In short, he lacks many of the at­trib­utes nor­mally found in pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates. And yet he would ar­gu­ably bring stronger cre­den­tials to a na­tion­al primary fight than any­one else in today’s GOP. He’s a gov­ernor with ex­tens­ive ex­ec­ut­ive ex­per­i­ence. He cut taxes. He op­poses abor­tion. He turned a massive budget de­fi­cit in­to a sur­plus. He’s an out­doors­man who touts the Second Amend­ment. He chal­lenged, and de­feated, or­gan­ized labor. There are some key areas in­to which he hasn’t yet waded — im­mig­ra­tion, for­eign policy — but if his­tory is any in­dic­a­tion, whatever po­s­i­tions he stakes out will be per­fectly at­tuned to the mood of his party’s right wing, presen­ted in a way that doesn’t ali­en­ate the es­tab­lish­ment.

Walk­er stands on the North Lawn of the White House. (Getty Im­ages)”He ap­peals to the grass­roots base, as well as your cham­ber-of-com­merce types that are of­ten on dif­fer­ent sides of the big is­sues,” says Matt Batzel, state dir­ect­or of Amer­ic­an Ma­jor­ity, a con­ser­vat­ive act­iv­ist group. “In Wis­con­sin, he’s been able to have a foot in both camps and have cred­ib­il­ity with both.” Tate, the Demo­crat­ic Party chair­man, puts it slightly dif­fer­ently: “He’s got all the ex­trem­ism of Rand Paul, pack­aged bet­ter. … He be­lieves everything Todd Akin be­lieves, but he’s not stu­pid enough to say it out loud.” (Walk­er did re­cently mod­er­ate his rhet­or­ic on Wis­con­sin’s gay-mar­riage ban ever so slightly, telling the Mil­wau­kee Journ­al Sen­tinel that he’s not cer­tain about the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of the law. “Voters don’t talk to me about that,” he said. “They talk to me about the eco­nomy. They talk to me about their kids’ schools.”)

Walk­er won’t dis­cuss the ques­tion of 2016. He con­sist­ently de­flects in­quir­ies about his plans by jok­ing that the job he really wants is pres­id­ent of Har­ley-Dav­id­son. It’s pos­sible he’s really in doubt about run­ning: “People don’t real­ize the toll this has taken on him and his fam­ily; this makes three elec­tions in four years,” says one prom­in­ent Wis­con­sin Re­pub­lic­an who is a close fam­ily friend of the Walk­ers. “He and Tonette are pretty tired.” 

But there may be a more stra­tegic pur­pose for his de­mur­rals: Walk­er can’t turn to 2016 un­til he’s taken care of 2014. The gov­ernor faces a strong chal­lenge from Mary Burke, a former ex­ec­ut­ive with the Trek bi­cycle com­pany. Frank­lin’s latest Mar­quette Law School poll found Walk­er and Burke in a “dead heat,” with each tak­ing 46 per­cent of the vote. (The state’s sharp ideo­lo­gic­al di­vide en­sures that any race in­volving Walk­er will be close, but he’s still widely ex­pec­ted to pre­vail in Novem­ber.)

Mean­while, Wis­con­sin­ites aren’t crazy about the idea of Walk­er run­ning for pres­id­ent: In the Mar­quette sur­vey, 27 per­cent of re­spond­ents said they would like to see him run, while 67 per­cent said they would not. When asked, “Do you think any gov­ernor can run for pres­id­ent and still handle their du­ties as gov­ernor?” 65 per­cent said no — a fig­ure that in­cluded 52 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans. Walk­er is wise, then, to keep his eyes on the road back to the Gov­ernor’s Man­sion for now.

One storm cloud loom­ing over Walk­er this year, and with po­ten­tial rami­fic­a­tions far bey­ond, is an in­fam­ous pair of “John Doe” in­vest­ig­a­tions — so named be­cause they are sealed by state law and con­duc­ted in private. The second probe, which has been hal­ted and re­opened by loc­al court or­ders, is look­ing in­to pos­sible il­leg­al co­ordin­a­tion between Walk­er’s cam­paign and con­ser­vat­ive out­side groups dur­ing the 2012 re­call race; Walk­er’s at­tor­neys are re­portedly near a deal to close the case. The ori­gin­al in­vest­ig­a­tion, which closed in March 2013, was launched in re­sponse to re­ports of Walk­er’s em­ploy­ees in the county ex­ec­ut­ive’s of­fice do­ing 2010 cam­paign work on the tax­pay­ers’ dime; it res­ul­ted in the con­vic­tions of six people, three of them former Walk­er aides, and pris­on time. To add in­sult to in­jury, emails re­leased as part of the probe showed Walk­er’s aides trad­ing ra­cist and ho­mo­phobic jokes.

Walk­er’s tem­pera­ment is per­fect for polit­ic­al rope-a-dope — for al­low­ing the op­pos­i­tion to pum­mel him, un­til they knock them­selves out.

In in­ter­views with dozens of Wis­con­sin Re­pub­lic­ans, none of whom would speak on the re­cord when asked about Walk­er’s weak­nesses, one con­sist­ent cri­ti­cism leveled at the gov­ernor is that he has not, over the years, sur­roun­ded him­self with good people. It was a prob­lem at Mar­quette, where the news­pa­per theft wound up de­fin­ing his cam­paign; it was a prob­lem when he was county ex­ec­ut­ive; and it was evid­ent dur­ing the Act 10 fight, when Walk­er’s staff put him on the phone with a man who claimed to be bil­lion­aire in­dus­tri­al­ist and mega-donor Dav­id Koch. The man re­ques­ted an up­date on the protests, and sug­ges­ted plant­ing a “trouble­maker” in the crowd to un­der­mine the op­pos­i­tion’s le­git­im­acy. Walk­er replied by say­ing his of­fice had “thought about that,” but de­cided against it. Un­for­tu­nately for the gov­ernor, he was speak­ing not to Koch but to the ed­it­or of a pro­gress­ive pub­lic­a­tion called the Buf­falo Beast, which promptly pub­lished au­dio of the prank call on its web­site.

Walk­er’s greatest chal­lenge, however, for 2014 and bey­ond, will be over­com­ing his repu­ta­tion as the gov­ernor who split his state in two. An af­ter­noon stroll around Walk­er’s own neigh­bor­hood il­lus­trates the prob­lem: Den­nis Doehr, a 74-year-old re­tired elec­tri­cian who lives near the gov­ernor, tells me that Walk­er has turned neigh­bors in­to “en­emies.”

The no­tion that he has di­vided Wis­con­sin strikes a nerve in Walk­er. The only time he grew an­im­ated dur­ing our in­ter­view was when I asked if he re­gret­ted the role he played in cre­at­ing the schism in his state. “There are many people, many pun­dits and oth­er com­ment­at­ors, who sug­gest that some­how “… what I did — par­tic­u­larly early in 2011 — is the reas­on for that,” Walk­er said. “They tend to gloss over the fact that in 2000 and 2004, the state of Wis­con­sin was the closest blue state in Amer­ica in the pres­id­en­tial elec­tions.” Walk­er paused, then ad­ded: “So this idea that some­how I po­lar­ized polit­ics in Wis­con­sin is fic­tion.”

IF SCOTT WALK­ER in­tends to be pres­id­ent, you can bet that he’s already told Tonette — and you can bet that he already has a plan. It is not hard to ima­gine what it looks like: In the primary, sur­roun­ded by the coun­try’s most tal­en­ted and am­bi­tious Re­pub­lic­an of­fice­hold­ers, Walk­er sits back and lets Christie, Ru­bio, Paul, Cruz, and the rest tear each oth­er apart. While they at­tempt to broaden their ap­peal bey­ond a spe­cif­ic seg­ment of the GOP base, Walk­er calmly makes the case that he has already united a frac­tured Re­pub­lic­an Party around core is­sues every­one in the GOP agrees on: cut­ting taxes, re­du­cing spend­ing, bal­an­cing budgets, and weak­en­ing the polit­ic­al in­flu­ence of or­gan­ized labor.

Sen. Ted Cruz (left) and Sen. Rand Paul are po­ten­tial 2016 rivals. (Getty Im­ages)In the gen­er­al elec­tion he gets hit hard by the Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ee. But, as he proved in both 2010 and the re­call elec­tion, Walk­er’s tem­pera­ment is per­fect for polit­ic­al rope-a-dope — that is, for al­low­ing the op­pos­i­tion to pum­mel him, “a very pleas­ant guy,” un­til they knock them­selves out. Tom Bar­rett, the Mil­wau­kee may­or who lost both races, tried re­peatedly dur­ing each cam­paign to get at Walk­er with per­son­al barbs. He failed, and made Walk­er look more sym­path­et­ic, and more states­man­like, in the pro­cess. “You can’t get to him,” says one Walk­er ad­viser, re­call­ing Bar­rett’s un­suc­cess­ful at­tempts to goad him. “You just can­not do it.” Walk­er’s long­time friend Court­ney agrees. “Scott’s just very — he’s al­ways un­der con­trol. I’ve nev­er, ever seen him get mad. It’s just not his per­son­al­ity.”

Fun­drais­ing, the weak­ness that led Walk­er to cut short his 2006 gubernat­ori­al bid, has in the in­ter­ven­ing years be­come one of his key strengths. Un­like most first-time pres­id­en­tial con­tenders, he has already proven that he can haul in huge amounts of money from a na­tion­al net­work of well-heeled donors: As­tutely re­cog­niz­ing that nor­mal con­tri­bu­tion lim­its wouldn’t ap­ply to his re­call cam­paign, he raised an ex­traordin­ary $37 mil­lion in 2012. And in the last six months of 2013, Walk­er ad­ded more than $5 mil­lion to his war chest for this year’s gubernat­ori­al reelec­tion, half of it from con­trib­ut­ors out­side of Wis­con­sin. “The uni­ons over­reached in re­sponse to Act 10, and turned Walk­er in­to a na­tion­al con­ser­vat­ive lead­er,” Batzel says. “And along with that na­tion­al status came lots and lots of fun­drais­ing money from out of state — and that really lays the ground­work for a pres­id­en­tial run.”

How far will Walk­er go? Walk­er says his ment­or Mitch Daniels, the former In­di­ana gov­ernor who blazed the trail for him by elim­in­at­ing col­lect­ive bar­gain­ing for Hoo­si­er State em­ploy­ees, taught him nev­er to grow com­pla­cent in his suc­cesses. Walk­er’s eld­est son, Matt, 19, says his fath­er is al­ways look­ing for his next chal­lenge. “Here in Wis­con­sin, he’s tried to get a lot of policies through, and a lot of work done, a lot of things re­formed,” Matt says. “I think that’s im­port­ant for people to know. He’s done a lot. And he’s look­ing to do more.”

Wis­con­sin Demo­crats who know Walk­er are less cir­cum­spect. “He’s hell-bent on run­ning for pres­id­ent of the United States,” Tim Cul­len says. Mike Tate, the Demo­crat­ic Party chair­man, agrees, and he warns Walk­er’s fu­ture op­pon­ents not to un­der­es­tim­ate the gov­ernor with the agree­able man­ner. “I think he is a mas­ter chess play­er,” Tate says. “There are people in my own party who go around say­ing that this guy’s not very bright, or that he fell back­ward in­to power. They are com­pletely wrong.”

Cor­rec­tion: An earli­er ver­sion of this story mis­stated the dis­trict Gwen Moore rep­res­ents in the U.S. House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives.

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