DES MOINES -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's executive experience gives him an early edge over U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan if the two enter the Iowa GOP presidential caucus, several key Iowa Republicans say.
"I think Walker would be a stronger candidate as a Washington outsider," former Iowa Sen. Jeff Angelo, R-Ames, said late last month. "I think Ryan will struggle with the same issue being faced by any sitting House or Senate member -- voters think Washington, D.C. is dysfunctional and will doubt that an 'insider' can fix it. However, Ryan does have experience in the national spotlight and is known as a reformer."
The 2016 presidential race is heating up with Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses just a little more than a year away. The first Iowa forum featuring multiple presidential hopefuls will be held Jan. 24, when U.S. Rep. Steve King and Citizens United host the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines. It's seen as an opportunity for candidates to appeal to Christian conservatives, an influential demographic in the Iowa caucuses that Walker, the son of a pastor who spent part of his youth in Plainfield, Iowa, would need to win.
Meanwhile, Ryan recently elevated his national stature by being named to lead the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee -- just two years after receiving his party's nomination for vice president.
Several key Iowa Republicans told WisPolitics they see both Walker and Ryan as strong, appealing 2016 presidential candidates that Iowa caucus-goers would embrace, should they decide to run.
"I believe Iowa Republicans view both these Wisconsin Republicans as leaders who will not shy away from doing what's right, even in the face of potential political peril," said Matt Strawn, former chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa.
"For example, Congressman Ryan is one of the few Republican leaders in Washington with the political courage to lead on entitlement reform, which is demonstrated in the budgets that he has created for the GOP House," Strawn said. "Governor Walker did what many said couldn't be done in Wisconsin, which was bring much-needed reforms to various state public employee unions. The result has been a dramatic improvement in the state's finances."
Both Walker and Ryan are Midwesterners with geographic proximity to the state that's the first stop on the road to the White House. Iowa Republicans predicted that the two Wisconsin GOP leaders would do well and would be serious contenders.
"I believe that both of these gentlemen would be very credible candidates if they choose to enter the race," said former Iowa Senate President Jeff Lamberti, R-Ankeny. "I tend to give an edge to governors at the moment, only because I believe that voters are looking for strong, proven executive leadership at this point in time. Governors are better positioned in this respect."
But Lamberti said Ryan -- who visited Iowa in September to campaign for Iowa Republican candidates including U.S. Sen.-elect Joni Ernst -- also has a high profile with Iowa voters and would immediately be a serious contender if he enters the race.
"I think the actions of Congress after the new Congress is sworn in in 2015 could have a significant impact on a Ryan candidacy," Lamberti said. "I believe Republicans in Iowa want to see a Congress that is bold in its actions, and take steps to right a ship that is listing. Most important is the economy. Congressman Ryan has the opportunity to be at the center of these debates in 2015, which could position him well."
Strawn said it's still too early to speculate on how either would fare in the Iowa caucuses.
"Both are well-known by name and reputation to Iowa Republicans," Strawn said. "But neither have large personal networks of connections across the state, especially compared with other potential 2016 candidates that have either run for president before (Huckabee, Santorum, Perry), have spent significant time courting activists in the state (Cruz, Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal), or campaigned aggressively for key Iowa candidates in 2014 (Chris Christie for Branstad and Marco Rubio for Ernst)."