Walker returns for two-day swing through New Hampshire

Last modified: 5/31/2015 1:02:02 AM
Scott Walker enjoys a comfortable seat among the top tier of the Republican contenders, potential or declared, for president. Back in New Hampshire for his third trip this year, he made an effort to distinguish himself from the other heavyweights in his field.

“Out of the emerging field, I see two groups of candidates: All good people, people I like and admire on the Republican side,” Walker told reporters after speaking to voters in Concord yesterday afternoon. “I see a group of fighters, people mainly in the Congress who are good at fighting, good at carrying the banner, good at protesting what this president has done. But they have yet to win any significant battles. I see another group of candidates who are emerging candidates who are governors or former governors, who are really good at winning, who have won elections and own re-election but have yet to take on any really substantial battles.”

What he offers, he said, is something different: “We’ve taken on the big fights on issue after issue after issue that people who support commonsense conservative reforms want, and we’ve won them.”

Walker spent Friday night aboard the M/S Mount Washington for the Belknap County Republican Committee’s 10th annual Lincoln Day First-In-The-Nation Presidential Sunset Dinner Cruise. Yesterday, he attended a handful of small, private stops before heading to Politics and Pie (hosted by the Concord City Republican Committee and the state’s national RNC committee members) and then to the Rockingham County GOP Freedom Founders Dinner.

Along the way, his presence continued to attract the interest of the state’s Republicans – many who view him as a strong conservative with a record of victory, in elections and on policy issues, in Wisconsin.

Maryska Giunta, whose husband Tony is the former mayor of Franklin, said she’s also been impressed by the warmth projected by Walker and his wife while on the campaign trail. The couple hosted Walker at their home yesterday.

“They’re very easy to talk to, personally, one-on-one,” Giunta said aboard Friday’s cruise. “A lot of candidates, you’re like, okay, he’s a great candidate, but he’s kind of stuffy – no, they’re very personable people.”

Aboard the cruise Friday night and in Concord yesterday afternoon, Walker’s remarks remained fairly consistent – he reiterated a story about his humble upbringing, his early job at McDonald’s and used a story about scoring a discount sweater at Kohl’s to make an argument for the value of keeping tax rates low in order to broaden the base.

And overall, Walker painted himself as a fighter – undeterred by large protests and other outcry provoked by, among other things, his budget policies and his efforts to weaken the power of unions in his state.

His reputation

To some New Hampshire Republicans, Walker’s reputation for confronting unions and other groups is evidence that he has what it takes to take on big policy fights on behalf of Republicans at a national level.

But to others, that same reputation is cause for concern.

“Walker’s problem, quite frankly, is that he’s made his reputation on busting unions. And so all the unions – AFL-CIO, teachers unions – are going to be coming out, if Walker’s the nominee, they’re going to be coming out in organized force,” said Gilford resident Norman Silber, on board Friday’s cruise with Walker and other candidates. While Silber said Walker is a “real contender,” he’s worried he might be too polarizing as the party’s nominee: “He has the potential for bringing out the union vote against him so badly that I think it would be a mistake for us to nominate him. Because we want to win.”

And as is to be expected on the New Hampshire campaign trail, Walker faced a few confrontations for his policy positions during his stop in Concord yesterday afternoon.

The first question came from former state Republican party chairman Fergus Cullen, an outspoken proponent of immigration reform and the founder of Americans By Choice, a group that stresses “the positive contributions immigrants make to America.”

“I’ve been disappointed with some of your public comments on the immigration issue,” Cullen told Walker at the Snowshow Club. “You’ve been leading saying you’re opposed to amnesty, and it makes me worried that you’re trying to pander to those on the right who are anti-immigrant, modern ‘Know-Nothings.’ We ought to be talking about visa reform, making it easier for the world’s most talented people to come to America legally and contribute to our economy. I’ve just been disappointed by your comments.”

Walker responded, as he did on all of the questions posed to him yesterday afternoon, in a measured tone – saying he understood Cullen but respectfully disagreed. He argued that the country needed to focus on securing its border “for reasons far greater than just immigration” and said he opposed amnesty.

“When it comes to illegal immigration, which is your point, I’ve said that the priority we should give – it doesn’t mean it’s exclusive – is to focus on the impact of American families and their wages and the overall impact on the economy,” Walker said.

After the event, Cullen said he was somewhat dissatisfied with Walker’s response. He said he followed up with the governor to urge him to, among other things, more clearly acknowledge the positive contributions of immigrants.

Abortion questions

Another questioner, Mary Heslin, put Walker on the spot for a Wisconsin law enacted during Walker’s time as governor that requires pregnant women to have an ultrasound before getting an abortion. Heslin initially questioned Walker by asking whether he understood how “invasive” transvaginal ultrasounds are, but Walker responded by saying those are not required under Wisconsin’s law.

“It has to be offered for the individual,” Walker told Heslin. “They can choose whether they want to see it or not or have it done or not, and it doesn’t designate what form.”

Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman for Walker, later clarified that he was referring to transvaginal ultrasounds when he was indicating that the procedure was optional.

In his response to Heslin, Walker also made reference to public criticism he’s attracted from abortion-rights groups and others over his recent comments on the ultrasound law – arguing that comments on ultrasounds have been taken out of context by the media. Talking about ultrasounds in general, Walker recalled his own experience viewing those of his own sons.

“I think for most people, that ultrasound picture that many of us have and many of us have seen from our children and grandchildren now is a wonderful thing and a wonderful opportunity,” Walker said yesterday. When Heslin challenged him further, he added, “If people are pro-choice – I’m pro-life – but if somebody’s pro-choice, don’t you want it to be an informed choice? To me, the informed choice is saying, I want to know what’s involved with it.”

Heslin, who after the event identified as a Democrat, said she didn’t come to the event intending to grill Walker on his state’s abortion requirements – but she decided to speak up after noticing that he didn’t mention women’s issues, specifically, during his remarks and that only men had asked questions before her.

“I wanted to ask something very specific to women,” Heslin said.

The Concord resident described herself as a “political junkie” who takes an interest in engaging with politicians, at the national or state level.

“I go to everything. I don’t care if I have a Republican president, he’s still my Republican president,” Heslin said. “I intend to be involved. I track down Republican candidates and ask them questions, Democratic candidates and ask them questions. That’s what New Hampshire is all about.”

From here, she said she planned to take a closer look at Wisconsin’s law, as Walker had advised her to do.

Aside from addressing his state’s abortion requirements, Walker used his response to Heslin’s questions as another opportunity to position himself as a politician “who’s going to be straight up and tell you the truth.”

“I think what you need to hear from are people who aren’t going to pander, just because they think someone agrees or disagrees with you,” Walker said. “I’m going to tell you what I am, whether we agree or disagree on this issue.”

(The Associated Press contributed to this report. Casey McDermott can be reached at 369-3306 or cmcdermott@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @caseymcdermott.)

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