Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Can Walker Win Reelection?

And what’s the secret -- so far -- of his success?

By - Nov 13th, 2017 12:02 pm
Gov. Scott Walker. Photo by Kate Golden of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Gov. Scott Walker. Photo by Kate Golden of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Over the last 25 years, three legislators – all Republicans – have regularly stopped in the Capitol pressroom, inviting interviews and making sure reporters know them, and vice versa: Glenn Grothman. Joel Kleefisch. Scott Walker.

“Anybody need a quote?” Grothman would ask after drifting into the pressroom. The subject didn’t really matter. Over 20 years, he moved from the state Assembly to the state Senate to the U.S. House of Representatives.

A former TV news reporter, Kleefisch enjoys trading barbs with Capitol journalists, who sometimes take his picture for social-media posts when he’s clad in full hunter-green camouflage or wearing shoes or ties of many colors. His stops often turn into on-the-record interviews.

Walker’s pressroom visits came after 1993, when the 25-year-old won a special state Assembly election, and 2002, when he was elected Milwaukee County executive. It was obvious then that he intended to ride politics as far as it would take him. He certainly has.

Now, after winning three elections to get and keep the job of governor, and a 2015 run for President, Walker doesn’t make pressroom stops. He can choose who interviews him and when. Days after his 50th birthday, he announced his bid to seek a third four-year term in November 2018.

Whatever you may think of him, Scott Kevin Walker is a historical figure in Wisconsin politics. Time to consider key factors in that six-year run.

*Staying on message: Capitol veterans say Walker’s ability to stay on message with a short, positive sound bite is one reason for his success.

Consider three bullet points he made in his recent re-election announcement in Waukesha County: More people are working than ever before. We have cut taxes by some $8 billion by the end of 2018. Wisconsin just received its best tax ranking in more than 50 years.

Since Walker has never been a policy wonk, he’s willing to negotiate away big goals after announcing them. Consider that his plan for a five percent UW System tuition cut went nowhere In the Legislature. And lawmakers also killed his plan to have state government self-insure for health care.

But Walker also won’t budge after laying down his bottom lines: No increase in the gas tax or $75 annual vehicle registration fee. And, he won’t sign a budget that raises the net property tax bill on a median-valued Wisconsin home.

*Fund raising: Since announcing for governor in 2009, Walker’s campaign committees have raised a stunning $104.1 million, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

How that number breaks down: 2010 run for governor, $11.1 million; campaign to survive 2012 recall, $37.4 million; 2014 re-election, $34.4 million; 71-day run for President, $9.5 million; and fund-raising total through June 30 laying the groundwork for his third-term bid, $11.7 million.

Walker is on track to raise and spend $40 million or more in the year before voters pick their next governor. That doesn’t include help from independent groups.

*Re-election margins: Walker is happy with getting just enough votes to win, unlike four-term Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, who insisted that his campaigns roll up a bigger winning margin every four years.

Instead, Walker won with 52 percent margins in 2010 and 2014, and 53 percent in the recall election of 2012.

Those are “narrow but consistent wins,” notes Marquette University Law School pollster and political scientist Charles Franklin. “The risk he faces is that a swing of just 3-4 percentage points would put him under 50 percent.”

But Franklin adds this: “The challenge for Democrats is that their critique of Walker for the past three elections has failed to move voters by more than a single percentage point. What campaign theme in 2018 will be more effective than the last three they’ve tried?”

*Popularity: Walker’s job-approval ratings in Marquette polls have ranged from a career-sinking 37 percent in September 2015, when he stopped running for President, to a 52 percent just before the 2012 recall election.

Does Franklin think wins last week by Democrats running for governor in Virginia and New Jersey could mean there will be an anti-President Trump cloud over Walker’s re-election? “National forces still can lift one party at the expense of the other,” Franklin says. “The unknown is whether Virginia was the peak of national forces or just the prelude to a 2018 wave.”

Let’s end with a trivia question: What was Walker’s 2010 campaign slogan?

“Lower Taxes. Higher Standards.”

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye Contact him at

8 thoughts on “The State of Politics: Can Walker Win Reelection?”

  1. Crazy Chester says:

    I don’t see Walker losing in Wisconsin as long as he chooses to run. His base is more solid than Gibraltar.

  2. Terry says:

    Career politician Scott Walker will be Governor for Life. Deal with it Democrats.

  3. Eric J says:

    Maybe by election day 2018 upstate voters will be able to see what Foxconn is doing to / for them.

  4. Kenneth says:

    Why should I support him? Streets and roads suck! Healthcare would be better if he supported Medicaid expansion! Education is still mediocre from kindergarten to the 12th year! Wages are still too low for most of us! Our prisons are too expensive! He is beholden to energy and mining profiteers! He doesn’t protect our natural resources like our Great Lakes! He favors the suburbs and ignores cities and the rural areas! He’s against protecting workers and busts unions! He supports Donald J. Trump! Our economy still lags far behind our neighboring states! He is hollowing out our once great university system! African Americans and Hispanics are totally ignored! He’s against gun safety! Foxxconn is welfare for capitalists! Why should I support him?

  5. Terry says:

    @Kenneth, because poverty rates in Wisconsin are at 35 year highs and Wisconsin has the fastest shrinking middle class in the country. The state is dead last in new business start ups. Dead last in entrepreneurship as well. Also you should vote for him because he’ll fix those roads and the billion dollar DOT budget deficit once he figures out where to get the money after giving away 3 billion dollars of our money to a foreign company. Plus remember, career politician Scott Walker is keeping you safe by arresting and locking up all those peaceful, hard working, tax paying, loving, caring responsible adult users of cannabis and ruining their lives while giving all the drunks and drunk drivers a pass.


  6. Terry says:

    @Erik J, people up north already do see the Foxconn “deal” for what it is, a Foxconn job by career politician and biggest Big Government moocher in the state Scott Walker. Where’s the 250k jobs you promised Walket? Why did you give 3 billion of our tax dollars in corporate welfare to a foreign company while selling out Wisconsin and especially the Northland just so you could say you “created jobs” in an election year? Where’s our jobs Walker? Where’s the investment in our communities Walker? Now this charlatan wants to be Governor for life. It’s time to fire Walker!!


  7. Dan Weidert says:

    The only viable challenge against the grotesque wave of big money is to counter it with an equally large wave of populist activism and social capital that will completely render big money insignificant. We have to decide as an electorate that big money will not decide this election. We have to offer a better choice this time than what’s been offered in the previous elections. Mike McCabe is the only candidate that has fought against big money special interests his whole career. He pledges to limit donations to $200 ($1000 total) from any individuals and organizations, and would (therefore) be the only person who would truly serve the people of Wisconsin. He is a totally different and populist choice than what the established democratic party has offered in this and previous elections. Why do we think offering the same-old, same-old will beat Walker this time? We will beat Walker by offering a much better alternative, not by running against him. Mike McCabe IS a much better alternative… check out his “Principle Over Party” platform at:

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us