MADISON, Wis. – Gov. Scott Walker is proving this week that his presidential bid isn’t just a daydream of his conservative admirers and news media prowling for the next big political story.
He announced that he will appear alongside other hopefuls at a major GOP gathering in Des Moines later this month. To manage his increasingly likely run, he has also hired a veteran consultant who has worked for major Republican national groups and Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign. Walker also said he was praying about whether to make a White House run.
“Any major decision I’ve made in my life, politics or otherwise, I’ve tried to discern God’s calling on, so this would be part of it,” Walker said Thursday after addressing Wisconsin bankers.
If Walker runs, he might have more high-profile competition. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, told GOP donors in New York that he is seriously considering a third presidential campaign in 2016, the Washington Post reported.
The moves by Romney and Walker come as former Florida governor Jeb Bush is swiftly snatching up major donors and operatives.
Walker has had to mix this political work with demanding official duties like finalizing his cabinet appointments and the two-year state budget he will introduce Feb. 3. But any potential 2016 candidate who doesn’t lay groundwork now risks being left behind, as the governor himself acknowledged recently when he said that aspirants “can’t go too far into 2015” without deciding on a run.
“We’re seriously looking at it,” he said this week. “It’s not something you should just kick around and just go in halfway. If you’re serious about considering something, you should spend the time, put in place the right people to advise you and so that if you make that ultimate decision it’s not something you back your way into, it’s something you’ve gone into with your eyes wide open and you’re fully prepared to act on.”
Walker committed to appear on Jan. 24 at the Iowa Freedom Summit sponsored by Citizens United and Steve King, a congressman from western Iowa best known for conservative stands such as his criticism of illegal immigration.
Walker said that forum would give him the opportunity to “share our vision, talk about what we’ve done in Wisconsin and see if that matches the interest of people in states like Iowa.”
The Wisconsin governor will have plenty of powerful Republicans for company — 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Most potential GOP candidates for 2016 will be at the conference, with several notable exceptions: Bush, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
For Walker, a strong showing in the neighboring state where he spent part of his childhood is particularly important if he wants to compete in the states that come afterward.
After spending 2014 focused on his successful re-election run against Democrat Mary Burke, Walker already needs to make up ground in Iowa on conservatives such as Paul and Christie, who both visited the Hawkeye State more than a half dozen times last year to Walker’s single visit.