Wisconsin's Scott Walker: 2016 presidential frontrunner?

Meet the GOP's new conservative hero: Scott Walker, slayer of unions. Can he ride his big win all the way to the Oval Office?

"Walker proved himself as a damn good candidate," says The Washington Post, but "Walker's sudden prominence will fade," says The New York Times.
(Image credit: Lynn Goldsmith/CORBIS)

"Two years ago, Gov. Scott Walker was a county executive, little known outside the Milwaukee area," says Monica Davey at The New York Times. Today, after beating back a recall attempt fueled by furious labor unions, the Wisconsin governor is a Republican hero and "rock star of the Right." Walker says he's focused on finishing out his first term as governor, which takes him to 2014, but Republicans are already "raising his name as a future contender for higher office." If Mitt Romney fails in his bid to unseat President Obama this year, is Walker at the top of the list for the GOP's 2016 presidential nomination?

Yes. "Walker for President" is definitely in the cards: From the moment it became clear that he faced a recall vote, "Walker proved himself as a damn good candidate," says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post. Neither Republicans nor the national network of very wealthy conservative donors he added to his Rolodex while raising $31 million will forget that. Look for Walker in "a prominent speaking slot at the Republican National Convention this summer," which will only "bolster the idea of him as a national candidate — heading into either the 2016 or 2020 election." Walker's only 44, after all, says Charles Mahtesian at Politico. Given the bitter tone of the recall campaign, "he's still a bit too radioactive for 2012, but by 2016 he'll have a large footprint within the party" — assuming, of course, he wins re-election in 2014.

No. Walker doesn't have a future outside of Wisconsin: Not everyone agrees that Walker would wear well outside of the Badger State, says The New York Times' Davey. "Walker's sudden prominence" could fade, and he's "a divisive candidate — people love him or hate him [in Wisconsin] — which can complicate any national run." Also, Walker's "future political aspirations" are hostage to a criminal investigation inching closer to him, dating to his tenure as Milwaukee county executive. Walker insists he's not a target of the so-called John Doe investigation, which has already ensnared several top aides, says Matthew DeLuca at The Daily Beast. But he "raised eyebrows" by transferring $160,000 from his campaign coffers to a legal defense fund.

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He certainly belongs at the top of Romney's VP list: Walker didn't just win conservatives, he also won plenty of Obama-supporting moderates in a critical swing state, says Marc Thiessen at The Washington Post. That alone makes "Walker the instant frontrunner for the GOP vice presidential nod." He not only immediately puts Wisconsin into play for Romney, he's also "a hero to the conservative grassroots that Romney needs to energize." But perhaps the best reason for Walker to win the veepstakes: "A Romney-Walker ticket — and losing Wisconsin for the first time since Ronald Reagan's 1984 landslide — strikes fear in the hearts of Team Obama."

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