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Walker running

Screenshot from a video produced by IJReview about Scott Walker's pre-debate ritual of going for a run.

It turns out running track in high school didn't just give Gov. Scott Walker a strategy to clear his head before debates — it gave him a seemingly endless supply of quips to spin poll numbers.

Whether Walker is showing momentum or weathering a dip in the polls, the Wisconsin governor and presidential candidate has an answer he can attribute to lessons learned running track in high school.

In March, four months before he officially announced his candidacy, Walker was already gaining traction as a top-tier candidate. The Tampa Bay Times portrayed him as a "conservative threat to Jeb Bush."

Walker, at the time, told the newspaper he often won as a high school track runner by drafting behind the lead runner, then overtaking the lead at the end of the race.

"My coach would always tell me afterwards, 'Scott, you know that's great but it's a lot easier to win if you're just ahead.' In our case, we're not ahead. Jeb's clearly ahead in terms of finances, name recognition, otherwise, but having shown up on the radar screen, we'll take it," Walker told the Tampa Bay Times in March.

Early in June, about a month before his campaign launch, CNN's Dana Bash noted that it seemed Iowa was Walker's to lose and asked whether that was a good or bad thing.

"Well, when I was a kid, in a small town, I used to run track as well as other sports. And my coach, sometimes I'd come from behind, and he said, 'You know, Scott, it's a lot easier if you're just ahead the whole time,'" Walker replied. "But either way, whether it's here or anywhere else ... we're going to aim to do well in Iowa, in New Hampshire, in South Carolina, Nevada, and just about every state across the country."

He gave a similar response shortly after announcing his candidacy, when asked whether anything short of a first-place finish in the Iowa caucuses would be devastating to his campaign.

"I used to run track in my small town," Walker said in July. "I had plenty of victories that I came from behind on. I had others where my coach used to say, ‘It’s a lot easier to win if you’re ahead.’"

This week, after months leading the Republican field, Walker's poll numbers began to slip.

An analysis by FiveThirtyEight showed that Walker's numbers fell more than any other Republican candidate's after the first GOP debate on Aug. 6.

No longer the front-runner in Iowa, Walker has fallen to number two or three in the home of the first nominating contest of the presidential election. And in other early-vote states, he's now a mid-level candidate.

The track analogy still applies, Walker showed on Wednesday — it's just changed a little.

"I ran track in high school. I ran the half-mile. There were a lot of people that ran out ahead and usually those were the guys we passed coming around the last corner," Walker said.

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.