WAUKESHA — Rodney Belier of Sheboygan threw two hands up and chanted “We want Scott” as Gov. Scott Walker took the stage on Monday to officially announce he was seeking the presidency.

Belier was one of about 2,000 people who flooded the Waukesha County Expo Center to see Walker make his case for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Even more had free tickets to the event but weren’t able to come inside, instead camping outside in the sweltering heat in an overflow tent. The first attendees showed up at 11:30 a.m. for Walker’s 5:15 p.m. speech.

The enthusiastic crowd was a contrast to the drumbeat of criticism from Democrats and liberal groups throughout the day leading up to the announcement.

Big cheers came during Walker’s speech when he promised to fight Islamic terrorists overseas and touted his implementation of a voter ID law in Wisconsin and opposition to the Common Core state educational standards.

Belier said Walker is one elected official with enthusiasm who can motivate him, citing his promise to take on terrorists and support for the Keystone XL pipeline.

“It gave me chills down my spine,” Belier said afterward.

“I like everything about him” as a potential president, Belier added. “The world is pretty bad right now.”

For others, Walker’s appeal lies in his faith, or his focus on conservative policies like lowering taxes and defunding Planned Parenthood.

“He’s honest,” said Karen Regnier of Elkhorn.

“I hate to see him leave Wisconsin, but I think the rest of the country could use him just as much,” said Dick Genal of Suring in Oconto County.

Richard Fonte and his wife, Dulcy, came to Waukesha from Austin, Texas, where Fonte runs the Twitter account @Texans4Walker.

“I think he’s the candidate that can beat the Democrats,” said Fonte, who described Walker as a fiscal and social conservative who could appeal to a wide spectrum of Republicans.

“I like what he’s done here,” Fonte said of Wisconsin. “I like that he stands up for his principles. I like the fact that he can appeal across the board.”

Walker has argued to voters that his three electoral victories in four years in a state that has consistently sided with Democratic presidential candidates in recent years makes him the right Republican to win the nomination.

Fonte said he’s supporting Walker in part because his own state’s senator seeking the presidency, Ted Cruz, doesn’t have a chance for victory.

As a former community college administrator, Fonte said he agreed with Walker’s efforts to remove tenure from state statute and to give more autonomy to the University of Wisconsin System. The latter initiative was not approved by state legislators.

Fonte said giving universities the ability to make decisions based on the individual needs of the school and its fiscal situation “just makes sense.” He said that with each speech of Walker’s he’s seen, the candidate becomes more refined.

Walker’s youth and Midwestern roots are appealing to Dulcy Fonte.

“That’s a big part of the country that needs to be represented, and I think he can get voters in other states as well,” she said.

Walker’s appeal is more simple to Alice Preiser of Elkhorn, who said she has supported him “all along.”

“I like him because he’s a faith-filled person I can relate to,” she said. “I appreciate that he’s a family person. I have a large family, and that’s important to me. I just believe he is who he says he is.”

The crowd was primed by a fiery speech by Rachel Campos-Duffy, who is married to U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Weston.

Campos-Duffy, a lifelong Republican who was a reality TV star on MTV’s “The Real World” in the early 1990s, took aim at Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton — calling her out of touch, unlike Walker.


Molly Beck covers politics and state government for the Wisconsin State Journal.