It was only weeks ago that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker emerged as a prospective 2016 Republican presidential candidate who might be best positioned to unite a fractious GOP. Walker’s ostensive ability to appeal to both the Republican Party’s tea party wing and the coastal “establishment” faction indicated that Walker might enter the primary field a prohibitive favorite. Some speculated that he could run as strong a campaign in Iowa as he would run in New Hampshire. What looked like an open field for the GOP ahead of 2016 suddenly began to appear virtually closed.
Polls of the national GOP primary electorate – an admittedly fictitious animal — still indicate that Walker enjoys Jeb Bush levels of support from Republican voters, but that backing has begun to ebb as voters learn more about the Wisconsin governor. The Washington Examiner’s Byron York noted that there is probably a correlation between Walker’s lack of name recognition among Republicans and his relatively high levels of support.
For a candidate who starts out with little national recognition, a campaign is a long process of telling voters who he is. With the general public — and all three polls cited above were of the public, not just Republicans — Walker is still a mystery for a large number of people. Even some Republicans who know of Walker and like him base their opinion on what they know about Walker’s stand against public-sector unions in Wisconsin, and little beyond that. Despite all the attention the media has paid to the campaign so far, Walker is still starting out when it comes to explaining to voters who he is and why he’s running.
And while Walker is defining himself for the Republican electorate, other candidates who have already established their brand are surging.
According to the results of a Monmouth University survey of the national GOP electorate, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) now polls competitively with Walker at 11 percent support each. In that survey, Jeb Bush maintains a nominal lead at 13 percent.
What’s more, Cruz and Walker have similar favorability ratings among GOP voters. Monmouth found 49 percent of the Republican electorate views Cruz favorability while 44 percent have a similar opinion of Walker.
While Monmouth noted that Walker continues to enjoy a significant amount of support from conservatives and his favorability ratings have markedly increased in recent months, “nearly half of Republican voters in the country don’t know enough about him yet to form an opinion.”
But the most interesting finding in this Monmouth survey came when the pollsters narrowed the field to just Cruz and Walker. In a head-to-head matchup, Republican voters backed Cruz over Walker at 41 to 36 percent.
The Scott Walker boomlet that characterized the early months of 2015 has not entirely dissipated, but the surge of support for Ted Cruz that accompanied his presidential announcement has elevated him to the top tier of 2016 candidates. According to this poll, Cruz at least has the capacity at this stage of the race to unseat Walker as the singular anti-Bush.