Scott Walker Exits the Scene

 Joe Murray  |    September 09, 2019

Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has a new job as president of the Young America’s Foundation (YAF), an organization dedicated to promoting conservative ideas among young people. His new job, which starts in 2021 and runs to 2025 with a four-year commitment, means Walker is precluded from running for governor in 2022 or U.S. Senate in 2024, if Sen. Ron Johnson decides to retire. Walker had discussed both possibilities since his narrow defeat for governor in 2018.

This effectively ends the possibility for a Walker comeback, at least for the next five and a half years, and opens the door to several other potential GOP candidates who may want to run statewide for governor or U.S. Senate. With Walker out of the picture, the 2022 gubernatorial race will begin almost immediately. Potential GOP candidates will start planning, raising money, and lining up support as soon as possible.

The two big picture questions for now: What will Republican Sen. Ron Johnson decide to do, and who are the most likely GOP candidates to run for governor in 2022?

Ron Johnson’s next move: When U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson ran for reelection in 2016, he made a pledge to serve just two six-year terms in the Senate. Since his reelection, Johnson has hedged on his pledge, and insiders will watch to see if Johnson decides to run for reelection to the Senate in three years, make a run for governor now that Walker is out of the picture, or retire altogether. Johnson is the only Republican statewide officeholder remaining in Wisconsin after the top-of-the-ticket sweep for Democrats in 2018. Other potential GOP candidates may hold off on their decision to run until Johnson makes his intentions known.

Possible gubernatorial candidates in 2022: The GOP has a deep bench in Wisconsin, and there are several prominent names that have circulated among political insiders as possible Republican candidates for governor in 2022. The box below includes five prominent potential GOP candidates for 2022 Wisconsin governor.

Comeback attempts usually fail: Perhaps it’s best that Walker accepted a new job. If he decided to run again in 2022, history would not be on his side. Two former Wisconsin governors attempted statewide comebacks and failed: Democrat Tony Earl in 1988 and Republican Tommy Thompson in 2012. And former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold’s attempt to get his Senate seat back in 2016 also failed. This isn’t to suggest that all future statewide comeback attempts are destined to fail, but past results cannot be ignored either. Voters tend to look forward, not backwards.

The next gubernatorial election in Wisconsin is more than three years away, so this list is likely to grow over time. But Walker’s exit from the next race for governor opens the door for other potential statewide candidates to strongly consider a run for the top spot in Wisconsin politics.

Joe Murray is Director of Political and Governmental Affairs for the WRA.

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