Gov. Scott Walker will become the final top-tier candidate to join the GOP battle for the White House when he announces his bid from Wisconsin on Monday.
Walker enters the race as the favorite to win Iowa’s caucuses, and with high polling numbers and plenty of grassroots enthusiasm.
He is a natural fit for the Iowa contest as a social and fiscal conservative from an adjacent state. And his appeal came into sharp focus when he captivated an Iowa audience in January with the tale of his battle against Wisconsin’s labor unions.
But there are plenty of doubts, too, when it comes to whether Walker can be the GOP nominee.
He faces a charisma question, and is seen by some critics as a vanilla candidate from the Midwest who lacks the “wow” factor — the same liability that capsized the candidacy of former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2012.
While competing with more exuberant rivals such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Donald Trump, Walker must show he can appeal to wide swathes of voters.
He also must show he is ready for prime-time after stumbling earlier this year in national interviews over foreign policy, at one point comparing his battles with Wisconsin’s unions to how he’d take on Islamic terrorists.
“This is the major leagues and the intensity is only going to get ramped up everyday,” says GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak. “He has to prove he can perform at a high level over the long haul.”
A win in Iowa is the first crucial test, but it won’t guarantee his nomination. The last two winners of the Iowa GOP caucuses — former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2008 and former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) in 2012 — have faded in the primary contests that followed.
“He’s clearly the frontrunner and there’s a lot of interest in him here,” said Craig Robinson, the former political director for the Iowa Republican Party. “But he still has a lot of work to do.”