SAN ANTONIO — Promising to “wreak some havoc” in Washington, D.C., Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker brought his presidential campaign to Texas for the first time Wednesday, bidding for the state’s expanded influence in the 2016 nominating process.
At a barbecue restaurant here and an ice cream parlor in Dallas, Walker repeated that he would lay waste to the status quo in the nation's capital, using language new to his GOP presidential pitch that aligns him with the anti-establishment favorites currently topping national polls.
"We will not be intimidated by anyone, whether it be from big labor union bosses, whether it be from the other party or whether it be occasionally from members of our own party,” Walker told reporters in Dallas. “We’re going to shake things up in Washington when we get there. We’re going to wreak some havoc and put the American people back in charge."
"I think people have seen I've been able to wreak havoc in our state capitol on the big-government special interests," Walker said earlier, alluding to his high-profile fight with public-sector unions that led to an unsuccessful recall effort against him.
Walker's three-day trip, set to conclude Friday with a meet and greet in Midland, represents some of the most extensive outreach yet to Texas by a non-native GOP candidate. Walker’s campaign made clear Wednesday he is not playing for second in Texas, the biggest prize out of several southern states voting March 1 in what is being called the "SEC primary."
Walker is vying for Lone Star support with several candidates with stronger ties to the state, including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, former Gov. Rick Perry and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Walker drew a direct contrast when asked Wednesday how he can compete with the GOP hopefuls with deeper Texas roots.
"The difference is I governed like a red-state governor, and I lived in a blue state,” Walker told reporters.
Walker also used his Texas trip to call for more support of police following the ambush death last week of Harris County sheriff’s Deputy Darren Goforth. The slaying Friday at a gas station in Houston angered Texas GOP leaders who see a national atmosphere against members of law enforcement enabled by President Barack Obama.
"The vast, vast majority of police officers, sheriff's deputies, troopers across America are doing their job under difficult circumstances every single day," Walker told reporters in San Antonio." We need leaders in this country at the local, the state and the federal level who are going to stand up and have their back when they're looking out for us."
In an op-ed published as Walker made his way down the Interstate 35 corridor, the Wisconsin governor noted "a rise in anti-police rhetoric" under Obama. Asked in San Antonio if the president shares some blame for recent cop killings, as Cruz has suggested, Walker did not go as far, only reiterating that Obama "needs to speak out about it" and say "enough is enough."
Walker’s swing through the state this week is his first visit to Texas as a presidential candidate and fourth this year. In March, he toured the Texas-Mexico border with Gov. Greg Abbott, a visit he highlighted while touting his border security credentials in Dallas.
Walker's latest trip was expected to include a number of finance events, including a fundraising swing Thursday through Harris County. Walker has cultivated relationships with prominent GOP fundraisers across the state including Chart Westcott of Dallas, Aimee Locke of San Antonio and Scott O’Brien of San Antonio.
Taking note of Walker's increasingly anti-Washington tone — seen by some as a response to the rise of political neophytes Donald Trump and Ben Carson — Locke said Wednesday it's not an act. “That’s who he is,” she said. “It’s not something he’s trying to tap into. That’s what he did in Wisconsin.”
Sure enough, many of those who came to see him Wednesday seemed to know him through his battles with unions back home. The topic frequently came up as Walker downed an ice cream soda at Highland Park Soda Fountain in Dallas and waded through the crowd at Bill Miller BBQ in San Antonio, clutching a large plastic mug filled with sweet tea.
Among Walker's well-wishers in Dallas was Kelby Woodard, the president of a Catholic high school. Woodard said he first heard about Walker while serving in the Minnesota state legislature, where he and his colleagues sought to replicate Walker’s education ideas. Woodard, who was born in Texas, said Walker’s limited-government message and Midwestern values could be a recipe for success in the Lone Star State, but he is going to have to work for it.
“You’ve got two Texas natives running for office. This is hard country for him,” Woodard said of Walker. “He’s got to get his name out, not just in the Midwest. I think when Texans learn a little bit more about him and his character, they’re going to like him.”