How Scott Walker could go from No. 15 to No. 1

The 'Inside Politics' Forecast
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Story highlights

  • A South Carolina lesson leads to buzz about a possible VP pick
  • Bernie Sanders faces a big test with African-Americans
  • Scott Walker's got a neighborly advantage in Iowa

Washington (CNN)A South Carolina lesson, how Scott Walker could be the 15th GOP candidate to jump into the 2016 race but end up in the top spot, John Kasich's New Hampshire strategy, an important test for Bernie Sanders with African-Americans, and Jeb Bush's bid to win over Iowa conservatives -- those stories filled a lively trip around the "Inside Politics" table.

1. Walker officially joins -- and with a neighborly advantage

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker officially enters the GOP presidential race Monday, and despite a bit of a rough patch of late, it is clear he starts with ideological and geographical advantages.
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    Conservatives like Walker because of his repeated battles with labor unions in Wisconsin. And it should not be forgotten that his state shares a border -- and television markets -- with the leadoff caucus state of Iowa.
    CNN's Jeff Zeleny noted that those and other advantages all but guarantee Walker will be an impact player in the GOP race.
    "He has one foot in the evangelical camp, one foot in a tea party camp, and he has shown that he can win election after election after election," said Zeleny.
    "Once he gets in on Monday, I believe he will be the most formidable candidate in Iowa. So, he's No. 15 but he could be No. 1."

    2. Kasich targets New Hampshire with super PAC help

    Ohio Gov. John Kasich is next in line to officially join the crowded GOP field -- and it is already clear he views New Hampshire as his critical early test.
    So his super PAC isn't waiting for the official announcement, but launching a pricey ad buy in recent days in hopes of building Kasich's profile -- and support -- in the leadoff primary state.
    Jackie Kucinich of The Daily Beast shared reporting on the Kasich calculation.
    "New Day for America, the group supporting John Kasich's run, spent something like $1.7 million in New Hampshire last week for an ad buy," said Kucinich.
    "That is the beginning of a very large ad buy for John Kasich in New Hampshire. They're going to dump a lot of money there to make sure every New Hampshirite knows his name."

    3. Bush looks to sway the Iowa skeptics

    Jeb Bush has stabilized in national and New Hampshire polls, and reported some eye-popping fund-raising numbers this past week. But Iowa remains a struggle.
    So play it down and focus on New Hampshire and beyond?
    Ed O'Keefe of The Washington Post reports that Team Bush isn't ready to make that concession -- at least not until it makes a head-on effort to sway some skeptics in the state's most conservative pockets.
    "I talked to Congressman Steve King this week who, of course, represents most of the area. He says, look, Bush may be the guy who comports himself most like a president, but nobody is talking about him up here," said O'Keefe.
    "But they say, if he comes, if he explains himself, if he reminds them that he's quite the social conservative, perhaps he's got a chance. And with so many other conservatives out there, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, there's a chance that he could perhaps do well enough."

    4. Bernie Sanders tries to diversify his base

    Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is making noise in the Democratic race because of his strong support among liberals. But there is a big missing piece, and Sanders is setting out to try to address an important campaign weakness.
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    Nia-Malika Henderson of CNN shared reporting on the stakes as Sanders ventures to Louisiana on July 23 to attend a major gathering -- the Southern Christian Leadership Conference -- and his biggest African-American audience to date.
    "In speeches lately, Bernie Sanders has been talking about 'white allies' in the civil rights movement; he's been talking about his endorsement of Jesse Jackson way back in 1988," said Henderson. "Some people want him to be a little bit more up-to-date in what he's talking about."
    So the gathering is a big test for Sanders to see if he will be able to retool his stump speech and gain any traction with a group that previously hasn't paid him much attention.

    5. A South Carolina example -- if only others might notice

    South Carolina closed the page on a divisive chapter in its history Friday, and what a powerful example it was.
    The Confederate flag came down from its perch on the State House grounds, in a ceremony that was graceful and respectful.
    The flag debate has polarized state politics for years, but the flag is now off in a museum.
    And the Republican governor who pushed for fast action on the issue promises to lead the state in a conversation about race and tolerance.
    Without a doubt, Gov. Nikki Haley is now a rising national GOP voice and a certainty to make lists of potential vice presidential contenders. We will see over the next several months how she handles that spotlight.
    And we will see if by any chance the South Carolina example might be copied.
    The flag debate, after all, for years appeared as intractable as the divides over, say, immigration and gun control. Wishful thinking, no doubt, but you don't know if you don't try.