Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker proposed a replacement to President Obama's health care law Tuesday at a Brooklyn Center machine shop, using an important policy speech to establish an early political foothold in a neighboring state he hopes can boost his Republican presidential prospects.

Walker's alternative to the law commonly known as Obamacare would include tax credits to help uninsured people get coverage, determined not by income as with the current law, but by age. It would provide tax incentives for health care savings, and would give states more power to administer Medicaid programs. Walker, whose full proposal can be found here, called for retaining one popular feature of the law, the requirement that individuals not be restricted from purchasing insurance coverage because of a pre-existing medical condition.

"I want to be the nominee that lays out a clear contrast," Walker said in morning remarks to an invite-only group at Cass Screw Machine Products, his first stop in a day of Twin Cities fundraising and politicking. "Not just that we're against Obamacare, but here's what we're for, and here's how we make it happen."

Alleging that the law is responsible for insurance premium increases and reduced medical choices for millions of Americans, Walker vowed to repeal it quickly should he become president. But at least 60 votes in the U.S. Senate would be necessary, a long shot for Republicans. Walker himself noted that even with Republican majorities in both the Senate and House since January, that Congress has not voted to repeal the law.

"We were told by Republican leaders in the last campaign that we just needed a Republican Senate to repeal Obamacare," Walker said. "Well, here we sit."

About 16 million previously uninsured Americans obtained coverage through the law, which Congress passed and Obama signed in 2010. A nationwide survey by Gallup released earlier in August found that the number of uninsured people dropped significantly in both Minnesota and Wisconsin from 2013 to 2015, as Obamacare took effect. Minnesota's uninsured rate went from 9.5 percent to 4.6 percent in that time, while in Wisconsin it went from 11.7 percent to 5.6 percent, according to the survey.

Rejected Medicaid dollars

Walker noted how, as Wisconsin governor, he rejected federal Medicaid dollars offered under the new law, and increased the income threshold under which a family of four is eligible for coverage under Medicaid. Over the same period, Minnesota, under DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, has increased public coverage availability for low-income residents.

"This law saves money and lives, but the Republicans' only plan is to repeal it," said Ken Martin, chair of the Minnesota DFL. Martin unfavorably contrasted Walker's decision to reject Medicaid dollars with his decision in July to sign a bill granting $250 million in taxpayer funds for a new Milwaukee Bucks basketball arena.

Cass Screw Machine Products, in business since the 1940s, manufactures screws, nuts, bolts and other fastening devices. It employs 128 people, and company President Steve Wise said the company saw a 35 percent increase in its health insurance premium this year, 15 percent of which was passed along to employees.

Wise was quick to stress neither he nor the company was endorsing Walker.

"I will listen to any politician who comes in here with a plan to make Minnesota's health care system better," Wise said. "If Hillary Clinton wants to come here next week, we'll welcome her."

After a brief tour of the plant, Walker spoke and took questions for about 40 minutes. The invitation-only crowd of about 100 people was a mix of Cass employees, and Republican activists and operatives. Two protesters showed up briefly toward the end of the event, bearing signs that said "Tax the Rich" and "Bring Back the Guillotine," but they left quietly at the request of a handful of police officers on site.

Walker's day in the Twin Cities included several political fundraisers and a private meeting with GOP state lawmakers. It's the first high-profile campaign stop in Minnesota by a leading Republican candidate for president. More than any other GOP candidate so far, Walker's campaign has cast an early eye to Minnesota's March 1 presidential caucus, reflecting what has become something of a Midwestern strategy amid the crowded group of Republican contenders.

"We're going to compete for the caucuses here," Walker told the morning crowd.

Collecting endorsements

Walker has accumulated more endorsements from well-known Minnesota Republicans than any other GOP candidate, including House Speaker Kurt Daudt, his honorary state campaign chairman. He has also won over numerous well-heeled Minnesota political donors: at a private lunchtime fundraiser Tuesday at the Minneapolis Club, Walker mixed with TCF Bank CEO Bill Cooper, former Minnesota Wild owner Bob Naegele and broadcasting mogul Stanley Hubbard, among others.

Later in the evening, Walker spoke to about 200 Republican Party regulars a O'Gara's Bar and Grill in St. Paul, at a fundraiser for the Minnesota Jobs Coalition, which supports Republican legislative candidates in Minnesota. About a dozen union activists held a brief demonstration outside, but they broke up before Walker arrived.

Walker's success rests heavily on a strong showing in the Iowa caucus next February. While he led many Iowa polls earlier the year, Walker's standing has suffered in recent weeks with the unexpected rise of Donald Trump.

"I may not be the flashiest of these folks," Walker said in Brooklyn Center. "I may not have the pizazz of candidates from the East or West Coast."

Should Walker outlast 16 other Republican candidates to become the party's nominee, campaign manager Rick Wiley said his Midwestern bona fides could make Minnesota a Republican pickup in the general election. The last time a Republican presidential candidate carried Minnesota was former President Richard Nixon, in 1972.

"I would love if we could put Minnesota back on the presidential map," Wiley said. "If you nominate a Midwestern governor, you put the Midwest back in play, and that's big for us."

Patrick Condon • 651-925-5049