NASHUA, N.H. — With his popularity in Wisconsin flagging, Gov. Scott Walker on Saturday emphasized his appeal to all segments of the Republican Party during a keynote speech at a New Hampshire GOP gathering.
“Tea party to establishment, from social conservative to libertarian, we do it all,” said Walker, a likely 2016 presidential candidate. “Because what people want more than anything is they don’t just want a fighter, they want somebody who fights and wins.”
Walker addressed about 100 GOP activists at a dinner that wrapped up a two-day Republican Leadership Summit in the state that holds the nation’s first presidential primary. About 700 people bought tickets to the state GOP fundraiser, which cost $299 for those attending dinners featuring Walker and presidential candidate Florida Sen. Marco Rubio on Friday.
In addition to Walker, the summit featured the three declared GOP presidential candidates so far — Rubio and Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky — as well as 15 other potential candidates, from top-tier contenders (former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush) to long shots (entrepreneur Dennis Michael Lynch).
Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu introduced Walker as “a great governor” with “a message that everybody should listen to” who “has made my life miserable, because it’s going to make it difficult to select among friends.”
State GOP chairwoman Jennifer Horn urged the crowd attending Walker’s speech to stay positive and avoid trashing candidates they don’t prefer.
“It’s not that I don’t want you to fight,” Horn said. “I just don’t want you to fight with each other.”
Walker, who plans to announce a decision on running for president after the state budget process wraps up in June, stuck to the script in keeping his message upbeat and his barbs aimed at President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“This isn’t a third term of Bill Clinton, this is a third term of Barack Obama,” Walker said of a potential Clinton victory in November 2016.
The speech sounded similar themes to the stump speech he rolled out last month in New Hampshire, with the themes of growth, reform and safety forming the pillars of a potential presidential platform.
Walker’s speech, which he has honed in recent months, opened with his narrative of a Kohl’s-shopping everyman who faced death threats during the 2011 protests and closed with the story about realizing on a visit to Independence Hall that the Founding Fathers were ordinary people “who risked their lives for the freedoms we all hold dear today.”
Walker drew a laugh mentioning that he was wearing a Jos. A. Bank suit, rather than the $1 Kohl’s sweater he sported last month at an event in Concord.
He then got the crowd buzzing and nodding in retelling a story about how the Wisconsin-based discount retailer makes money off of sales volume, comparing it to his economic philosophy of cutting taxes to spur economic growth, based on a theory by conservative economist Arthur Laffer.
“With all deference to my friend Art Laffer, it’s the Kohl’s Curve in my mind,” Walker said.
He then took a jab at Clinton, adding, “I doubt the presumptive nominee for the other party has ever been to Kohl’s.”
Walker was asked three questions by the audience, including what he would do about the national debt, how he would address small business regulation and what his plan was to court voters in New Hampshire.
That last question is when he mentioned his support among Republicans and independents during his three election victories.
“He’s really lit it up in New Hampshire,” said Gregory Slayton, a venture capitalist from Hanover, who asked the third question and thought Walker gave the best presentation of the weekend. “Talk, talk, talk. There’s a lot of people talking about things … but he’s done things.”
Walker is leading the latest New Hampshire polls, but many at the event cautioned against reading too much into current polling.
“If I looked at the polls, I would never have been a state senator, I would have never been a governor,” said former New York Gov. George Pataki, who spoke at the event. “You don’t worry about what the polls say about you or the others, you worry about what you say about the future of the country.”
Walker’s second visit of the year to the Granite State came the same week the latest Marquette Law School poll showed his popularity in Wisconsin dropping to its lowest level in the three-year history of the poll.
Those saying the state is heading in the right direction and the state budget is in better shape also dropped, particularly among Republicans and independents. Walker has been touting support among independents during his recent speeches in early primary states.
The poll found 41 percent approved of the job he is doing, compared with 56 percent who disapprove. His approval number in October before winning re-election was 49 percent.
The poll also showed widespread opposition to several provision in Walker’s proposal, such as cuts to K-12 education and the University of Wisconsin System.
Among Republicans, Walker’s approval level is down 8 points since October to 86 percent; those saying the budget is in better shape is down 16 points to 63 percent; and those saying the state is heading in the right direction is down 6 points to 85 percent.
Among independents, his approval level is down 14 points to 23 percent; those saying the budget is in better shape is down 20 points to 24 percent; and those saying the state is heading in the right direction is down 24 points to 25 percent.
Despite the downturn in public opinion back home, many attendees at the GOP event in Nashua were meeting Walker for the first time and had generally positive things to say about him.
“Presidential candidates outside of their home states rarely face a situation where Iowa or New Hampshire voters pay attention to what goes on back home,” said Marquette Law School pollster Charles Franklin.
Walker told reporters after the speech that the low poll numbers don’t complicate his national message, and that his numbers will improve when people see the benefits of things such as lower property taxes and funding for domestic violence prevention.
“When they look at the positive reforms we’ve put in place I think it will be good,” Walker said.
Walker, who returned Friday from a European trade mission, has another meet-and-greet event planned in New Hampshire on Sunday. Next weekend he swings through Minnesota and Iowa.