Gov. Scott Walker’s presidential campaign faces fresh questions after a second straight debate in which pundits and donors said he failed to give his White House bid a needed boost.
After the debate, Walker dodged questions about whether he’ll shake up his campaign’s top staff. He also vowed that his campaign is now all-in on the early presidential state of Iowa — a stark acknowledgment that Walker, who once eyed paths to victory through many states, now must depend on his performance in a single state.
The Washington Post reported Thursday morning that Walker’s donors are growing restive after the debate, with some of them seeking the ouster of Walker’s campaign manager, Rick Wiley.
“His donors — and many of his voters — are getting antsy,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “They see the same polls everybody else does.”
Stanley Hubbard, founder of the Minnesota media company Hubbard Broadcasting, has been a major financial backer of Walker, giving at least a combined $100,000 to Walker’s nonprofit and to the super PAC, Unintimidated PAC, that’s supporting him.
Hubbard told the State Journal on Thursday that he remains a Walker supporter, but that his campaign needs to scramble to determine why it’s not gaining traction.
“He has the right message. He’s smart. And I’d like to know why he’s not breaking through,” Hubbard said. “It behooves that campaign to figure out what it takes to break through.”
He said while he continues to back Walker, he would start giving money to Carly Fiorina, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie.
Eric Anton, a real estate executive and Walker donor and bundler, dismissed calls for a shakeup of Team Walker.
“I don’t get the sense that we’re in crisis mode,” Anton said in an interview with the State Journal.
Walker and Wiley told donors on a conference call that Walker remains strong in Iowa, with high favorability ratings in the polls, campaign leaders in all 99 counties, and a muscular organization. Walker also made a personal appeal to the donors for money.
One of Walker’s top fundraisers, Chicago Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts, praised Wiley on the call. Walker’s campaign, responding to an inquiry about Wiley, pointed to a Capital Times report quoting Wiley saying, “I’m not going anywhere.”
Early debate presence
Walker made his presence felt early in Wednesday’s debate with a sharply worded exchange with frontrunner Donald Trump.
But after that, he was absent for long periods of the debate. A National Public Radio analysis shows Walker got the least amount of air time of all 11 candidates during the three-hour debate — just eight minutes and 29 seconds.
Walker’s campaign pointed at factors outside his control to explain that, noting he was asked just three questions. Politico reported that he sounded exasperated immediately after the debate.
“Short of tackling someone, I don’t know what more I could have done,” Walker said.
Anton said the debate moderators didn’t treat Walker fairly. In their push to boost ratings, the moderators kept the focus on Trump and his bickering with other candidates, instead of on more substantive exchanges, Anton said.
The immediate national media reaction to Walker’s performance was largely negative. The Hill and Washington Post put Walker on their “losers” lists from the debate. Politico reported that “Scott Walker swings, misses and his campaign scrambles.”
After the debate, Walker vowed to narrow his campaign’s focus, telling MSNBC: “We’re putting all our eggs in the basket of Iowa.”
The early presidential state long has been viewed as central to Walker’s presidential bid. But Walker’s comments to MSNBC suggest that, going forward, he’ll limit the breadth of a campaign that, until now, was happening on a national scale.
Anton predicted Walker will shine at the retail politicking that historically has been key to success in Iowa.
Walker plans several campaign stops there this weekend, along with stops in South Carolina and Michigan.
“He’s a grass roots guy,” Anton said. “We’re still optimistic.”
Walker was running ninth among the GOP candidates in Thursday’s Real Clear Politics average of recent national polls.
The next debate is Oct. 28 in Boulder, Colorado. Its moderator, CNBC, has not released criteria for how many candidates will participate and how they’ll be chosen.
Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll, says some observers may be starting to wonder if Walker is a lock to qualify for the main debate next time around. The last two debates have been separated into a main debate, featuring the top-polling candidates, and undercard debates with the lowest-polling candidates.
If next month’s debate remains a 10- or 11-candidate affair, it’s unlikely Walker has to worry, Franklin said. But if fewer candidates are allowed, “then I think the Walker campaign would have to be concerned,” Franklin said.
The fourth debate will be held in Wisconsin in November and sponsored by Fox Business and the Wall Street Journal. The date and location have not been made public.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.