(Walker’s announcement speech, campaign website and selected positions are here.)
The New York Times
By Patrick Healy
WAUKESHA, Wis. — Gov. Scott Walker, who built a national conservative following by crippling public employee unions and then defeating an effort to recall him, announced on Monday that he was running for president as a Washington outsider who would reduce taxes, challenge Iran and Russia, and cut the size of the federal government.
Starting his speech with the words “I love America,” Mr. Walker, a Republican, said the nation’s fiscal health and global reputation required undoing many of President Obama’s priorities, from the Affordable Care Act to any deal with Iran on its nuclear program. He cast himself as an unwavering fighter who would not compromise his principles as president but would rather pursue a decidedly conservative agenda to make people less dependent on government programs and to transfer power from Washington to the states.
“We need new, fresh leadership, leadership with big, bold ideas from outside of Washington,” Mr. Walker said to cheers from several thousand inside the Waukesha County Expo Center. “The kind of leadership that knows how to get things done, like we’ve done here in Wisconsin.”
Mr. Walker’s political message, as well as his national appeal as a Midwestern governor with an Everyman persona, will be tested right away as he campaigns this week in Nevada, South Carolina and New Hampshire, states that hold early and influential contests.
While Mr. Walker is well positioned to compete in the first-in-the-nation caucuses in Iowa, which he considers a must-win state, he has lost momentum in those other three states because of long absences, relatively modest political operations or increasingly hard-line positions that appear intended for Iowa conservatives.
His comments are eyebrow-raising at times: On Monday night, he criticized the minimum wage as among the “lame ideas” from the “left,” saying on Fox News Channel’s “Hannity” that the country should focus on improving worker skills instead. He did not specify whether he was referring to the wage itself, which has traditionally had bipartisan support, or Democratic proposals to raise it.
In other remarks, including his speech here, Mr. Walker described himself as a former Boy Scout and son of the heartland who would defend the “unborn,” the Americans who oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds, and more broadly the conservative and traditional citizens who feel under attack from what they consider coastal elites.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re from a big city, a suburb or a small town, I will fight and win for you,” Mr. Walker said. “Healthy or sick, born or unborn, I will fight and win for you. Young or old — or anywhere in between — I will fight and win for you.”
While Mr. Walker drew implicit contrasts between his executive experience and the records of his Republican rivals, especially the senators who largely have only voting records to point to, he did not attack any by name. The speech was more of an introduction to a national audience, with few specifics about how he would fight and win on priorities like overhauling entitlements and defeating the Islamic State.
Before a “Winnebago tour” through Iowa this weekend, Mr. Walker will try to win back Republican voters who have drifted away from him in recent months.
In South Carolina, he plans to cast himself in the mold of Nikki R. Haley, the state’s Republican governor, by pointing out similarities in their records and talking about the importance of religion in his life, Walker advisers say. Both governors supported tax cuts, so-called right-to-work legislation and voter identification laws. Mr. Walker has praised Ms. Haley’s leadership and compassion in the aftermath of the Charleston church shooting and over the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the State House grounds.
Matt Moore, the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, said Monday that Mr. Walker had “rocketed to the top tier of candidates.”
“He appears to have support across a wide cross-section of the Republican Party, and in politics, that usually means staying power,” Mr. Moore said. “If the primary were held today in South Carolina, Governor Walker would have a great chance at winning.”
Yet other Republican officials in South Carolina, echoing some of their counterparts in Nevada and New Hampshire, said the Walker team was lagging behind rivals like Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas in hiring staff members and organizing volunteers.
Mr. Walker’s advisers expressed confidence Monday that the nomination fight would be so long and so fractured — Mr. Walker is the 15th prominent Republican to join the race — that he had plenty of time to try to win over 20 percent to 30 percent of the likely electorate, which may be all he would need to win in New Hampshire.
Mr. Walker has had no second thoughts about his Iowa-first strategy, they added: He believes he must win the caucuses in his neighboring state to have a high-profile early victory that builds a political tailwind to carry him to New Hampshire and beyond.
“Winning Iowa will give the governor the most momentum in places like South Carolina and New Hampshire, and that’s more important than making lots of visits to all the important states at this early stage,” one Walker adviser said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to be candid about Mr. Walker’s political strategy. “Is there risk in focusing more on Iowa than on the other states? Sure. But it’s worth it.”
As an unofficial candidate early this year, Mr. Walker got off to a hot start with several strong speeches and impressive poll numbers in Iowa and other key states. But a series of gaffes hurt him among some Republican leaders and donors, and his lead in Iowa polls has narrowed as rivals like Mr. Cruz, Rick Perry, Donald J. Trump and Ben Carson have gained ground. His fund-raising has also lagged behind that of several Republicans.
Mr. Walker’s strategy is now focused on building a political operation in Iowa and campaigning aggressively there with an increasingly conservative message. He recently endorsed amending the Constitution to leave laws blocking same-sex marriage up to each state, and he is preparing to sign legislation in Wisconsin that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, except when the life of the mother is in immediate jeopardy.
Before the audience here Monday, choosing shirt sleeves over a jacket and tie, Mr. Walker also pledged that there would be “absolutely no daylight” between the United States and Israel if he was president, and that he would “stop the aggression of Russia into sovereign nations.” As for Iran, he said, “we need to terminate the bad deal with Iran on Day 1, put in place crippling economic sanctions and convince our allies to do the same.”
With those positions and others, Mr. Walker, 47, is aiming to sway conservative and evangelical voters, two dominant groups in the Iowa Republican caucuses. They may now have a particular affinity for Mr. Cruz and Mr. Carson, who had a combined 19 percent support of likely Iowa caucusgoers in a recent Quinnipiac University poll. But other Republican candidates, like Mr. Perry, a former Texas governor, and Mr. Rubio, are angling to appeal to the same voters, and Mr. Rubio and his supporters have more financial resources than Mr. Walker does right now.
But on Monday, Mr. Walker didn’t sound worried at all. As soon as American voters know his record, he made clear, they will see him as a proven leader compared to a large field of squabbling Republicans.
“We lowered taxes by $2 billion, in fact we lowered taxes on individuals, employers and property — in fact, property taxes today are lower than they were four years ago,” he said to some of his loudest cheers. “How many governors can say that?”