Gov. Scott Walker may be flying high in the early days of the 2016 presidential campaign contest, but can he sustain it?
Just days before Walker suggested dealing with protesters had prepared him for taking on terrorists from the self-proclaimed Islamic State during a speech at the annual CPAC on Thursday, Marquette Law School poll director Charles Franklin told a DC breakfast sponsored by WisPolitics on Tuesday that one of the keys to winning a presidential nomination is to not peak too early.
"Everybody got their 15 minutes" of fame during the GOP nominating contest in 2012, Franklin noted. But "brief opportunity is hard to translate into constant support, " he said, reminding attendees of the short-lived rises of Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain last time around.
But in addition to a "breakout" performance at the Iowa Freedom Summit last month, Walker has another advantage over most would-be GOP nominees: a national donor base, Franklin said. Thanks to the high-profile but ultimately unsuccessful effort to have him recalled in 2012 and his tough re-election race last November, Walker sports a broader pool of donors than most governors, Franklin said.
At this stage of the primaries, it's crucial to define yourself before critics or rivals do, Franklin said. Walker did an excellent job of that in Iowa when he introduced himself to conservative activists likely to be key in deciding the nation's first presidential caucuses, he said.
"In Wisconsin it's hard for us to understand that Scott Walker isn't a household name everywhere" but he isn't and he did a good job of letting Iowans know who he is and what he has accomplished so far, Franklin said.
Generally speaking, any potential nominee is mostly acceptable to the bulk of primary voters so the trick is standing out from the crowd, said Franklin.
But since Iowa, it's an open question whether Walker is standing out in a good way.
He came under heavy fire by refusing to acknowledge that President Obama is a Christian during the recent National Governors Association meeting in Washington. And mere hours after making the protester-ISIS connection on Thursday, Walker was walking back from it.
"My point was just, if I could handle that kind of a pressure and kind of intensity (of the 2011 protests), I think I'm up for the challenge for whatever might come, if I choose to run for president," Walker told Bloomberg Politics after.
There are also lessons from Wisconsin polling on Walker.
The governor has never won in November of a presidential year in Wisconsin, so it's unclear how he would fare in the fall of 2016 when many Dem-leaning voters who don't vote in gubernatorial elections come to the polls, Franklin suggested.
But Walker has won independents -- who do not affiliate themselves with either party -- in his three gubernatorial races. However, independents and moderate party members are not necessarily one bloc, Franklin said. "The two groups are splitting differently in Wisconsin right now," he added.
In another 2016 race, freshman Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, could have a tough road to reelection, Franklin said.
"Johnson, for someone now four-plus years into his first term," still doesn't have great name identification, Franklin said. Former Sen. Russ Feingold still is better known than Johnson and is viewed more favorably by Wisconsinites than Johnson, he said.
That could give Feingold the leg up, should he choose to seek a rematch.