By Melanie Batley
Republican Party strategists say Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker could be the new hope to lead the GOP presidential ticket in 2016 as the George Washington Bridge traffic scandal takes its toll on the presumed frontrunner, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Walker, according to pundits, carries the necessary appeal among conservatives to win a GOP primary, but his success in a blue state indicates he may be one of the few possible contenders capable of winning over independent voters in a general election, Politico reports.
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“Chris Christie took a big fall after bridge-gate. It makes sense that Scott Walker’s stock would rise,” Ron Bonjean, a GOP strategist and Wisconsin native, told Politico. “I think he has as excellent a chance as anyone else in the GOP primary at this point.”
Walker was elected governor in 2010 and went on to survive a bruising recall fight in 2012 that was fueled by the unions who were irate over his proposed budget repair plan and changes to collective bargaining rights for state employees.
“Look at the guy — he got elected in Milwaukee County twice [as Milwaukee County Executive], then governor, then a recall election,” a former top Romney bundler told The Daily Beast. “He’s battle-tested.”
Walker currently faces a re-election battle against Democrat Mary Burke, the daughter of the founder of bicycle manufacturer Trek. He already has a significant financial advantage over Burke, having raised $4.6 million in the second half of 2013. Burke has just $1.3 million, $400,000 of which are her own funds.
“I’ve heard a lot of interest in Walker,” Charlie Black, veteran GOP strategist and adviser to Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign, told Politico. He added that if Walker wins re-election, he’ll “have a great record not only in Wisconsin but a great electoral record, having won three times in five years in a blue state.”
Commentators say Walker is also unique for his solidly middle class image and status as a Washington outsider. Nevertheless, they say, the GOP field for 2016 remains wide open, and Christie’s national political profile could still recover.
“There are no frontrunners. There are six to 10 really good candidates,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said, according to Politico. “I think we’ll have a very broad campaign group.”
Gingrich added, “Assuming that he survives the bridge problem, and I think he will, Christie is going to end up a very formidable candidate.”
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