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Reputation As Conquering Reformer Carries Scott Walker Into 2016 Race


Yes, let's take a few moments now to get some presidential politics and the newest member of the fast-growing Republican presidential pack. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker officially launched his campaign for the White House last night, and he's making the rounds of early primary states this week. He'll be speaking in Nevada today, in South Carolina tomorrow, then traveling on to New Hampshire and Iowa. Walker's billing himself as a battle-tested reformer who knows how to win tough contests. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.



SCOTT WALKER: Thank you.


SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Scott Walker announced his campaign to a standing-room-only crowd at the Waukesha County Expo Center outside Milwaukee last night. His sons wore matching jackets and ties, but Walker himself was in shirt sleeves, looking like someone who knows how to take and throw a political punch and is itching to move up in weight class.


WALKER: My record shows that I know how to fight and win. Now more than ever, America needs a president who will fight and win for America.


HORSLEY: Three years ago in the same Expo Center, Walker celebrated his victory over an unsuccessful recall attempt. Labor unions had tried to recall the governor as payback when he stripped them of their collective bargaining rights. Charles Franklin, who directs a political poll for Marquette Law School, says Waukesha was and is very much in the governor's corner.

CHARLES FRANKLIN: It is the reddest county in the state and, as the scene of his victory in the recall, reminiscent of the moment that, more than anything, launched him into the national scene.

HORSLEY: The Waukesha kickoff also illustrates Walker's 2016 strategy of playing to the GOP's conservative base, even if it costs him some support in the middle.

FRANKLIN: He's not a candidate that seeks 60 percent of the electorate.

HORSLEY: By touting his victories at the ballot box and in the legislature, Walker hopes to draw a contrast with other Republican candidates who either lost elections or failed to deliver on policy promises. Walker stresses he's not only battled unions, but cut taxes and expanded choice in education.


WALKER: If our reforms can work in a blue state like Wisconsin, they can work anywhere in America.


HORSLEY: Democrats are quick to note that Wisconsin's job and income growth are weaker than many neighboring states. But that does little to discourage Walker'S supporters who lined up for hours in the hot sun before yesterday's announcement.

LAUREL MELLONE: I'm behind him all the way.

HORSLEY: Laurel Mellone, who wears a scarf styled like the American flag, says she thinks Walker can go the distance.

MELLONE: He's fought the good fight three times and won every time. He's just honest. He's honorable. His father is a minister. And I just think he comes from a great place, and he's always been dedicated to the Republican ideals.

HORSLEY: As governor, Walker's tended to downplay social issues, but lately he's been more outspoken about his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. That's endeared him to the religious conservatives who carry outsized influence in Iowa's Republican contest. Polls show Walker at the head of the GOP pack there, and he's planning a Winnebago tour of Iowa this weekend. A potential weak spot for Walker is foreign policy and national security, but he tried to diffuse the argument that a governor is less experienced in those areas by invoking a political hero - Ronald Reagan.


WALKER: In my lifetime, the best president, when it comes to national security and foreign policy, was a governor from California.


HORSLEY: Earlier this year, President Obama mocked Walker's criticism of a potential Iranian nuclear deal, telling NPR the governor would change his mind once he'd had time to bone up on foreign-policy. Walker reportedly has been boning up, but he hasn't warmed up to the Iranian talks. Yesterday, he again said a Republican president must unwind any nuclear deal on day one. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Milwaukee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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