Scott Walker is the real Republican presidential contender to watch

To a certain extent, Walker is benefitting from caution and obscurity. Last year, I could have easily written that “Rubio could be a voter or a donor’s first choice, not just a compromise candidate.” Perhaps Walker will disappoint, too. After all, Pawlenty shared Walker’s impressive electoral record in competitive states, but apparently lacked the chops to pursue the presidency. There’s no way to know whether Walker’s prepared until he runs.

But even though Walker’s political skills remain an open question, there are reasons why he might be a stronger candidate on paper. For one, he’s a more experienced politician—and the fact is that political skills and instincts are learned and honed under tough circumstances. By the time Walker’s wins reelection—which I expect—he will have won three competitive statewide contests in a tilt-blue state, under three different circumstances. He will have done so while campaigning and governing as a conservative. There are very few politicians who can claim as much.

It’s also easy to imagine Walker catching fire in Iowa. The language of the religious right comes naturally for Walker, who often begins his speeches by thanking God or his supporters for their prayers during the recall. And ultimately, the Iowa caucuses privilege the religious right more than the Tea Party or any other form of modern conservatism.