In Wisconsin, Walker Could Become a Leading 2016 Candidate or an Also-Ran

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Wisconsin Gov. Scott’s Walker’s re-election bid is not just about who will lead the Badger State for the next four years. There are big national implications as well as the Republican is widely expected to look at a 2016 campaign if he can win a second term -- an outcome far from settled with just over a week to go in the election.

Walker turned himself into a major national figure in 2011, three months into his tenure, by signing a law that severely curtailed the power of unions for state employees. He survived a recall attempt the next year by Democrats outraged by his policies. And this year, Democrats and their labor union allies view Walker as one of their biggest enemies and are organizing aggressively to help Democrat Mary Burke defeat him and knock Walker's ideas off the national agenda.

Most polls have shown Walker with a lead, but it is well within the margin of error, and both sides agree the winner is likely the campaign that turns out its voters best. Wisconsin was deeply polarized by both ideology, partisanship and race before Walker became governor, and his tenure has only exacerbated those tensions. In recent polls against Burke, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Walker is earning about 96 percent of the Republican vote in Wisconsin but less than 3 percent backing from Democrats.

Even though he is running in a state that elected Obama in 2008 and 2012, Walker is making no bones about his conservatism or tacking to the political left. In a second term, he is promising to require people who get food stamp benefits to pass drug tests, expand a state-operated school vouchers program and refuse hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, even as other GOP governors have accepted the money.

Burke has cast herself as the person who can unite Wisconsin, but in her effort to encourage Democratic voters to come to the polls, has campaigned alongside Michelle Obama as well. She has made expanding Medicaid a major priority, although it’s not clear she could do so in office, because Republicans dominate the state legislature in Wisconsin.