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CHARLESTON, S.C. — Wrapping up the first of what are sure to be multiple trips to South Carolina this year, Gov. Scott Walker said he hasn’t heard the call to run for president yet, “but there’s a good vibe out there.”

Walker has now visited the first three states of the 2016 presidential nominating cycle, including multiple trips to Iowa and his first visit to New Hampshire last weekend. Earlier this year, he said he would run for president only if he felt called to do so.

“People are excited,” Walker said Friday during a brief interview with the State Journal in Rock Hill, South Carolina. “They know our story, they’re looking for leadership, and I think they appreciate what we’ve done in Wisconsin.”

Walker dismissed a recent poll showing his approval level in the state dropping to its lowest level since the 2011 protests against his collective bargaining changes.

“You see that consistently every year when there’s an election,” Walker said. “When people see the results, see property taxes are down, I think when the budget is finished you’ll see things go up. Particularly with 4.8 percent unemployment and the fact that we’ve got a much higher labor participation rate than the rest of the country shows people are going back to work.”

Walker on Friday concluded a two-day, four-city visit to the Palmetto State, which holds the first-in-the-South presidential primary early next year.

All but one of the state’s GOP primary winners since 1980 have captured the nomination, and Walker’s poll numbers indicate he’s well-positioned to perform well in a state with many fiscally conservative, anti-union, evangelical Republicans.

“We’ll be back many more times in the future,” Walker told a group of Republicans on Friday at Charleston’s historic Francis Marion Hotel.

“We feel good about South Carolina,” he said.

Walker sounded similar themes at each of the events, which were fundraisers for the South Carolina Republican Party.

“What I really liked about Scott is he’s walked the talk,” said Johnnie Bellamy, a past chairwoman of the Horry County Republican Party from Myrtle Beach. “He’s done all the things we want Washington to do.”

State GOP chairman Matt Moore, who introduced the governor at each event but won’t endorse in the primary, said Walker’s appeal is that he’s been in the battle for conservative ideals recently.

“It shows in the message,” Moore said. “He’s not talking about fights he had 10 years ago. People find that very compelling.”

In each speech, Walker thanked those who donated and prayed for him during the 2012 recall election, talked up support from Wisconsin independent voters, and disparaged Washington as “68 square miles surrounded by reality.”

He also illustrated his tax-cutting philosophy with an anecdote about shopping at Kohl’s, received sustained applause in calling for a president who will stand up to radical Islamic terrorism and closed marveling at how the Founding Fathers once seemed like superheroes to him, but, as he learned during a visit to Independence Hall a few years ago, were ordinary men.

“This is a moment in American history where we can tell future generations … we stood up and … we did what was required to make America great again,” Walker said.

He also touted a recently signed right-to-work law that he previously said was a distraction, which received big applause in a state that has the lowest union participation rate in the country.

Walker met with Gov. Nikki Haley and several state lawmakers. He planned to wrap up his first visit to South Carolina in 17 months with a speech at a private dinner hosted by the National Rifle Association.

From there he planned to fly to Boca Raton, Florida, for a two-day National Republican Committee donor retreat. The Washington Post reported Friday that Walker would be among several GOP presidential hopefuls who would be attending a party fundraiser Sunday at the Palm Beach estate of billionaire David Koch.

His busy travel schedule continues next weekend with a speech at the Harris County Republican Party Lincoln-Reagan Dinner in Houston. Next month, he travels to Europe for a trade mission. He’ll be back in New Hampshire in mid-April for an event expected to draw more than a dozen presidential contenders. A week later he has two more events planned in Iowa.

He also plans to travel to Israel this spring, said Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman for Walker’s political nonprofit Our American Revival. Unlike the European trade mission, that trip will not be taxpayer-funded, she said.


Matthew DeFour covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.