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February 05, 2014 10:02 AM Scott Walker’s Opening

By Ed Kilgore

If you are a national political pundit, all of Chris Christie’s problems create a problem in how you write about the 2016 presidential field, which has to be mentioned in the half of stories about Republicans that aren’t just about Establishment/Tea Party jousting in Congress. You must have two things Christie’s (at least temporary) eclipse takes away: an Establishment favorite and a governor.

Politico’s Anna Palmer argues today that more and more Wisconsin’s Scott Walker is filling the gap.

“I’ve heard of a lot of interest in Walker,” said veteran Republican strategist Charlie Black, who served as chief adviser to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) during his 2008 presidential bid. Black also predicted that if Walker wins reelection this year he’ll “have a great record not only in Wisconsin but a great electoral record having won three times in fives years in a blue state.”

Now for me personally, Charlie Black is the Republican Establishment. He’s an uber-consultant and lobbyist (specializing in foreign governments in the latter role) who’s been involved in just about every GOP presidential general election campaign in memory. But he’s also got ideological street cred; his first boss was Jesse Helms, and he was a co-founder of CPAC.

So if Charlie says Walker’s gotten all buzzy again among the movers and shakers, I believe it.

Last spring I wrote a post about Walker’s high reputation in Iowa, where he’s a big bud of Gov. Terry Branstand but also appeals to the red-hots. Nothing’s changed since then to diminish his stock in Iowa, unless you consider the brief but intense swooning of IA Republicans over Ted Cruz last summer a blow to every rival.

Now there are two obstacles to Walker becoming a top-tier 2016 candidate. First and most obviously, he has to successfully navigate what will still be a difficult 2014 re-election campaign. That he will begin with a very significant percentage of Wisconsin voters hating his guts, so there’s not a large margin of error. Beyond that, he will need to be mentioned as something other than one name among many of Obligatory Gubernatorial Possibilities, along with Bobby Jindal, Susana Martinez, John Kasich and maybe Mike Pence. So he probably needs another good vicious fight with public sector unions or some other liberal constituency to make him stand out: Walker? Oh yeah, he’s the one that broke the unions in Wisconsin! His close ties to the Koch Brothers are another possible differentiator. And if he does “break out,” then it will be that much harder for Chris Christie (assuming he survives his current troubles) to break back in.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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