DES MOINES — Minutes before Gov. Scott Walker launched into his soapbox speech at the Iowa State Fair, U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, recalled the moment Walker broke out as a contender for the Republican presidential nomination.
It was at King's Iowa Freedom Summit back in January. King remembered seeing Walker's energy grow along with the crowd's.
As Walker returned to Des Moines on Monday, no longer the frontrunner in the critical Hawkeye State, King suggested Walker needed another enthusiastic crowd to regain his edge.
"When you have a great crowd, and we had 1,250 people there in the Hoyt Sherman — they were enthusiastic, they were core, true believers. Here at the fair it’s a little different, but as he’s gone around he’s had a good, solid performance at each one of the stops along the way," King said. "If there’s a crowd like that that will feed him, we’ll see what we saw in January. He’s been doing a good solid job, but that extra edge out there is how he gets his edge back."
It turned out it wasn't a supportive crowd Walker needed, but one peppered with adversaries.
While Walker was greeted with a healthy ovation from supporters sporting his t-shirts and waving his signs, it was when protesters tried to interrupt him that he hit his stride.
"Again, unintimidated. I am not intimidated by you, sir, or anyone else out there," Walker said, invoking the title of hi s2013 book in addressing a protester who had made his way to the front of the stage. "I will fight for the American people over and over and over and over again. You want someone who’s tested? I’m right here. You can see it. This is what happened in Wisconsin. We will not back down. We will do what is necessary to defend the American people going forward."
The campaign immediately seized on the moment, promoting the confrontation in a YouTube video sent to reporters after the speech.
Walker promised the crowd: "If you give me the chance, I will not be intimidated, just like I wasn't intimidated here or anywhere else."
Many protesters donned Cheeseheads, giving the Iowa tradition some Wisconsin flavor. Before Walker spoke, a vuvuzela was heard, echoing the soundtrack of the protests sparked by his 2011 battle with labor unions.
The Wisconsin governor repeated themes from his stump speech, but focused heavily on his disappointment with Republican leaders in Washington, D.C., for failing to pass legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He encouraged voters to send a message to candidates that when they make promises on the campaign trail, they must follow through.
"I gotta tell you, these days I’m not just frustrated with the president and the Democrats in Washington, I'm frustrated with the Republican leadership in Washington as well," Walker said. "You see, they told us through the last election that if we just elected a Republican Senate, the leadership out there would put a bill to repeal Obamacare on the desk of the president. It’s August; we’re still waiting for that measure."
Walker is set to announce his own health care policy on Tuesday in Minnesota.
Following his speech, Walker was mobbed for more than an hour by reporters, protesters and supporters, before touring the fair with Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds.
One protester, Natalie Czaraowski, said she was there to draw attention to Walker's anti-worker positions. Czaraowski, a Milwaukee resident, came to the fair with Wisconsin Jobs Now. Other protesters were associated with the Service Employees International Union and Make It Work.
Walker took questions from the crowd about immigration, ethanol subsidies, college affordability, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Monday was Walker's first appearance in Iowa since the Aug. 6 GOP debate. An analysis by FiveThirtyEight showed that Walker's numbers fell more than any other Republican candidate's after the debate and after months as the Iowa frontrunner, an average of polls now puts Walker in third behind Donald Trump and Ben Carson in the home of the race's first nominating contest.
Walker has two more events in Iowa after the fair, at two of the most Iowa establishments a candidate can visit: a Maid-Rite hamburger restaurant and a Pizza Ranch.