It seems perverse, but Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker owes a debt of gratitude to the liberal state employee unions that triggered a recall election in 2012. Because of them, he’s not only a three-time election winner, he’s a leading fundraiser in the 2016 presidential field.
The Republican maintains a database of donors from all across the country, which is giving him a leg up on most of the presidential field. He built up that list of donors when conservatives rallied to his cause to fight his union-engineered recall.
That story begins just after Walker was elected in 2010.
He swiftly delivered on a campaign promise to end collective bargaining for public employees unions. Many public employees — teachers, cops, firefighters — who had long been forced to pay union dues were finally able to opt out. “By 2013 government union membership had fallen to 138,124 from 187,064,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
The governor also delivered on a promise to balance Wisconsin’s budget, which was $3 billion in the red when he took office. Public employee unions didn’t like the fact that he forced state workers to contribute more to their pensions and pay more of their health care costs, though. Those reforms were the genesis of the recall.
Unions led violent rallies in the state capital, but the governor prevailed in the voting booth. Walker won that 2012 special election easily, with 53 percent of the vote. He was re-elected to another four year term last fall, with some 52 percent of the vote.
Now, the Wisconsin governor is a top contender for the White House. In Iowa, home of the nation’s first caucuses, he narrowly leads the field with 15 percent in the most recent Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register poll. And he’s building solid financial support as well.
“The recall provided him with a really interesting opportunity, because he made so many connections nationally with so many donors,” Chart Westcott, an executive from Dallas, tells The Washington Post. “He already has this base of people who have given him six figures in the past. Not a lot of the other candidates have a national network like that.”
The newspaper adds that Walker collected more than $80 million in his three races. Three-quarters of that came from small donations of $75 or less. So Walker clearly has the ability to pull money from lots of people, all across the country.
Right now, the GOP field is wide open, and bringing in money matters more than anything else if a candidate hopes to remain in the race long enough to win some primaries next year.
Ironically, because of labor unions, Scott Walker is already a winner. And he looks like a candidate who can survive that long haul.