Sept. 02–HIGHLAND PARK — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker brought his mild manner, shy smile and a promise to “wreak havoc on Washington” if elected president to a century-old, suburban Dallas soda fountain Wednesday, opening a three-day swing through Texas.
“One of the things I heard inside there, and I hear from other people across the country, is that Americans are looking for someone to shake things up,” Walker said, speaking before a throng of reporters after spending more than an hour working his way through the crowd of folks gathered at the Highland Park Soda Fountain. “They want someone to wreak some havoc on Washington.”
Early in the race, Walker, who made his name taking on public employee unions in Wisconsin and surviving a recall election between his initial election in 2010 and re-election in 2014, was considered a prospective front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.
Here was a battle-tested candidate acceptable to both his party’s establishment and more ideologically conservative wings, a favorite of the well-heeled and enormously influential Koch brothers, and yet potentially electable in a general election — winning three times in four years serving conservative red meat in a blue state, while remaining Midwest cordial in the face of adversity.
But as the race bulked up with other formidable candidates, and, especially, with the sudden entrance into the race — and unexpected dominance to date — of Donald Trump, Walker’s fortunes ebbed. His poll numbers nationally and in the early-voting states subsided, and his low-key style paled in the lights of the first debate in Cleveland last month.
Walker was in Texas in March, touring the Texas- Mexico border with Gov. Greg Abbott back when he was riding higher.
On this swing, Walker headed from Highland Park to a similar meet-and-greet event at Bill Miller BBQ on Broadway in San Antonio. Friday morning, he will do the same at Lori’s Cafe in Midland.
In between, the Wisconsin governor was holding a series of private meetings in Texas. His staff didn’t specify with whom, but presumably they included past and potential future donors.
For the first time in decades, Texas, with its huge bounty of delegates and early March 1 spot on the primary calendar — along with a number of other states, chiefly in the South — could play an important role in determining the Republican nominee.
But Walker’s potential to rebound and be a player in Texas, a huge and expensive state to mount any kind of campaign, depends on his performance in the February caucuses in his neighboring state of Iowa, where, according to recent polls, he now places fourth — well behind Trump and retired neurosurgeonBen Carson, and just behind Texas’ U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who will be doing a three-stop campaign swing through his home state Thursday that begins inFort Worth, takes him to Tyler and ends in Kingwood.
In February, Walker had drawn even with Cruz in Texas atop the University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll. But in a poll in August commissioned by the Texas Bipartisan Justice Committee and conducted by Florida-based Gravis Marketing, Trump was leading the field in Texas with 24 percent, to 16 percent for Cruz and 12 percent for Carson.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was next with 9 percent, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina followed with 5 percent each, and Walker was tied with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Gov. Rick Perry, with 4 percent each.
Despite his low standing, the Highland Park event, which packed the long, narrow soda fountain, had more the upbeat spirit of a chance to get your photo taken with an up-and-comer than a has-been.
Erin Leu brought her sleeping 2-month-old son, George Matthew Leu, to see Walker so he might be able to say he met a future president as an infant. He was in the womb when Leu met Fiorina a few months ago.
Leu, 31, was among the attorneys who earlier this year successfully challenged an Austin ordinance requiring that religiously based pregnancy resource centers that don’t offer abortions or refer women to abortion services had to post signs indicating they didn’t provide medical care.
Offering the mantra of many a GOP voter, Leu said she is “looking for the most conservative candidate who is electable.”
She said Walker could be that candidate.
So too for Kat Smith, 27, a Republican precinct chair, who said her family’s three-generation business — Hargrove Electric — was being done in by a union, even in right-to-work Texas, and she appreciated Walker’s standing up to unions.
But, if she is, as Walker put it, among those who wants some havoc wreaked in Washington, Smith thinks Trump might simply wreck things, and that a man of Trump’s temperament shouldn’t have his finger on the nuclear button.
“He’s making a mockery,” Smith said. “It’s the ‘Real Housewives’ of presidential politics.”
In the end, to get elected, “being likable is No. 1,” Smith said.
Walker’s message seemed to be that he would wreak just the right amount of havoc in a broadly acceptable manner.
“You actually need to have someone who has been tested taking things on. I have not only run something, but I have done it in the most difficult circumstances of any of the candidates out there,” Walker said.
But a reporter asked, “There are those who say Donald Trump is wreaking a little havoc on your campaign, your poll numbers are sagging, how are you going to change that?”
Walker replied that he used to run track and “the only time it mattered whether you were ahead was at the finish line. I plan on being ahead when we cross the finish line in 2016.”
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