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Why Minnesota’s conservative factions are warming to Scott Walker

Wisconsin’s governor appears to be firming up his standing among Minnesota Republicans, with a special appeal to the state’s staunchest conservatives.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaking to supporters after a Republican organizing meeting in Concord, N.H., on Saturday.
REUTERS/Dominick Reuter

Wisconsin governor and possible presidential candidate Scott Walker appears to be firming up his standing among Minnesota Republicans, with a special appeal to the state’s staunchest conservatives.

As MinnPost’s Eric Black has observed, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, a presidential candidate himself in 2010, has joined the pundit pack in declaring Walker as the candidate who can unite the far-right factions of the Republican party. 

The Minnesota Tea Party Alliance has already praised Walker for his signing Wisconsin’s right-to-work legislation. And in April, Walker will headline an event for the Freedom Club, a group of influential and wealthy conservatives.

Charles Franklin, the director of the Marquette University Law School Poll, which has tracked Walker for almost a decade, agrees with the conclusion that Walker has appeals to hardline conservatives in a way that Jeb Bush does not — though not because Walker sprang from that wing of the party.  

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“It’s important to note that Walker did not grow out of the Tea Party movement as much as the establishment wing of the party,” Franklin said. As proof, Franklin goes back to Walker’s first foray into statewide Wisconsin politics when he sought and lost the GOP endorsement for governor in 2006. “He didn’t challenge [endorsee] Mark Green but dropped out of the race and campaigned for him,” Franklin said.

Franklin ticked off a list of Walker’s other center-right credentials, starting with good relations with the business community. “Far from scaring the business community in Wisconsin, they feel in the end they will do the right thing from their point of view,” he said.

Within Wisconsin’s borders, Franklin says, Walker has downplayed his rhetoric on inflammatory issues like abortion and right-to-work laws.

Walker signed an anti-abortion bill requiring an ultrasound for any woman seeking an abortion. But in an ad during his 2014 re-election campaign, while stating clearly that he is pro-life, Walker said the final decision is between a woman and her doctor.

According to Franklin, Walker signed right-to-work legislation, pushed by Wisconsin’s Republican legislators, with minimal fanfare. “I agree there’s a shift to the right,” Franklin said about Walker’s tendency to promote highlight these positions before conservative audiences in Iowa and New Hampshire. “But it’s more being willing to be explicit about positions than what he wasn’t explicit on before.”

Wisconsin voters, Franklin said, are more willing to accept Walker’s ambiguities than national political reporters and Republican rivals, though it’s an open question of how well that tactic will work going forward. “Does what has worked very well in Wisconsin work as well on the presidential campaign trail?” Franklin asked. And will Wisconsin voters continue to give their governor such leeway?

Wisconsin may have that answer in a month or two when Marquette University Law School conducts its next poll, the first since Walker started his high-level of out-of-state campaigning, Franklin said.  “We’ll learn how his ambitions have affected his standing at home.”