Madison, Wisc. | As the temperature in Washington edged up toward 80 over the weekend, Madison and most of the rest of Wisconsin was fighting one of the worst snowstorms that had hit the state in years. Motorists were warned to stay off the roads. Snow, wind and temperatures in the teens or lower made one question whether spring is, in fact, just around the corner.
Wisconsin Republicans are hoping too for a break in what for them has also proved a long political winter. Since January they’ve lost a state Senate contest in a district Donald Trump carried by 17 points and a liberal won a state Supreme Court contest for the first time in a quarter century. What’s more, they’re facing energized and well-financed Democrats hoping to prove this fall that President Trump and Sen. Ron Johnson’s success in 2016 were flukes; that Wisconsin remains at heart the blue Democratic state they’ve grown up believing it to be.
To do that they have targeted Gov. Scott Walker, who is running for re-election but may find beating him tougher than they expected. Right now, they’re convinced knocking him off will be easy. Mr. Walker says they are absolutely “giddy” about their chances and there are something like a dozen of them vying for the opportunity to take him on. Nine of the Democratic contenders are potentially serious candidates, but none has gotten real traction yet so Mr. Walker won’t know which he will face until the August primary.
The governor knows he’s in for the fight of his life this year and has warned his supporters that unless they are willing to out-hustle the opposition Republicans could lose the state, but he’s convinced that isn’t going to happen — at least not if he has anything to say about it. Mr. Walker always been a tough campaigner and his opponents have believed they’ve had him on the ropes before. They poured tens of millions of dollars into the state during the 2012 effort to recall Mr. Walker, but it wasn’t enough and they will do the same this fall hoping for a different outcome. Mr. Walker believes he and state Republicans are up to the challenge and, indeed, that the losses earlier this year served as a wake-up call that will help them in the fall.
The winner of that primary, giddy or not, will face a hard-working successful incumbent who takes nothing for granted and is likely to prove a far tougher opponent than they expect. Many believed that Mr. Walker’s 2016 abortive presidential run would knock the wind out of him and make the governor an easier target this year. They expected Mr. Walker, like many who have “gone national,” to be less engaged in doing the job he was forced to return to, but that hasn’t happened. The conservative reformer returned to Madison after the 2016 not to lick his wounds, but to get back to work, and he has done just that with the same energy and dedication that won him the governorship in the first place.
What’s more, he’s not resting on what he’s done in the past. He likes to tell people that he remembers former Gov. Tommy Thompson, the Badger state’s longest-serving chief executive, telling him years ago that elections are about not the past but the future. He’s happy to talk about the promises he’s made and kept and the problems he’s helped solve as governor but focuses on the new challenges that will face Wisconsinites during the next few years and what he would do to meet them.
Chief among these are efforts to train workers for jobs in the state and ways to make sure that Wisconsin’s young people will not only find jobs here but will want to stay in their home state.
Mr. Walker has avoided another problem that sometimes makes incumbents more vulnerable than they should be: He has never forgotten that he works for the voters who elected him. He can be found attending and holding meetings in every corner of the state. During last weekend’s snowstorm, for example, those who braved the weather to show up at events he had agreed to attend discovered that their governor hadn’t let a blizzard keep him from joining them. That’s the mark of a very good politician and very good politicians are hard to beat.
• David A. Keene is an editor at large for The Washington Times.
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