Scott Walker turns to New Hampshire

Scott Walker warms to New Hampshire
Scott Walker warms to New Hampshire

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Scott Walker warms to New Hampshire 01:59

Story highlights

  • Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will be relying on retail politics and his Harley Davidson to make a strong showing in New Hampshire
  • But the two-term governor is going to have to spend a lot of time there to win over famously reticent New Hampshire voters

Manchester, New Hampshire (CNN)Donning his leather Harley Davidson jacket and going on a fall ride might be precisely what Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker needs to connect with New Hampshire primary voters.

He's planning his first New Hampshire ride for Labor Day weekend, and he told CNN during a campaign swing in New Hampshire this week that the "unique" approach should help him connect in a way that is absolutely crucial to winning over famously reticent New Hampshire supporters.
"New Hampshire, though, is really kind of special here. They're accustomed to a lot of attention. We want to give them that kind of attention," Walker said Wednesday, shortly after rallying supporters at a house party in Derry, New Hampshire, hosted by one of his New Hampshire campaign co-chairs, Chris Wolfe.
    "We want to do it in unique ways," he said. "We do the traditional town hall meeting, which we've done a lot of and we'll do more, but we're gonna do something unique with a Harley ride, where we get around the state next month and tour through each of the counties."
    Walker isn't looking to come out on top in New Hampshire first-in-the-nation primary next year -- he's focusing largely on Iowa, which borders the state he's governed for four years. But a solid showing here could be enough to keep his campaign afloat heading into South Carolina's primary.

    'The president of all 50 states'

    Walker led the Republican field in Iowa until he was recently knocked from his perch by Donald Trump and Ben Carson. But he still boasts of growing up in the Hawkeye State and running next-door Wisconsin, and his top supporters and aides have staked his 2016 run on a win in Iowa.
    But he's still building out in other states, which is what smart candidates do if they want to actually grab the nomination, said Neil Levesque, executive director for the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College.
    "I think it's a good investment for him to be in New Hampshire. I think New Hampshire has traditionally voted for people they believe can be the president of all 50 states," Levesque said Friday, shortly after Walker's talk at the Politics and Eggs event in Manchester.
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    "I mean, if he does well in Iowa, then the next step is a good showing in New Hampshire -- if not a win -- and then a big showing in South Carolina," Levesque said. "But if there's Swiss cheese holes in all of that, that's not good. The other thing is that campaigns who focus on trying to win each contest, traditionally take it seriously that this is a 50-state fight."
    Walker squeezed in eight events during his three-day swing this week in New Hampshire. He crimped his standard stump speech down to about 15 minutes at more intimate stops and spent the majority of the time working the room, one voter at a time.
    He has a steep hill to climb here, where Republican voters have often picked more moderate candidates. In 2012, eventual nominee Mitt Romney won 39.4% of the vote and libertarian favorite Ron Paul won 22.8%. In 2008, John McCain edged out Romney, but combined, they both split almost two-thirds of Republican voters.
    To find a staunch conservative who carried New Hampshire requires reaching back to 1996, when Pat Buchanan barely beat Sen. Bob Dole.
    Walker was doing surprisingly well in New Hampshire earlier in the year, according to the Real Clear Politics tracking of polls, but more recently slipped into the back of the pack. Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush are running neck-and-neck for second place while Trump is continuing to dominate the field.
    If anyone is the target audience, it's Lori and Bill Marko, a pair of independent-minded conservatives from Henniker, New Hampshire -- just down the road from Morse Sporting Goods in Hillsborough, where they chatted with Walker on Thursday.
    They're not dead set on Walker but they're tired of moderate nominees like McCain and Romney who, they said, have shown they can't win general elections. Walker's visit to this sporting goods store -- with a few dozen people crammed in among the rows of rifles, fishing gear and racks of insect repellant -- is helping lure them.
    "We're watching everybody, only met him twice," Lori Marko said. "I liked what he had to say more this time, now that he's got more teeth into what his policies are, what he's going to do. And I like what I'm hearing for our veterans, for our security, for Obamacare. ... It's more in line what I was thinking, but I wanted to hear what he had to say first.
    Bill Marko looked into Walker after reading his book "Unintimidated," which recounts Walker's battles with the Wisconsin unions. "I became a big fan of his after reading that," he said.
    And they ride Harleys.
    Walter Morse, the founder of the sporting goods store where Walker talked, is a former Hillsborough County sheriff influential in Republican grassroots organizing. He said he was happy to have Walker, but not making any choices yet.
    "I always wait until I get to talk to them all and see them, until they convince me I should be on their team," he said Thursday, just before Walker spoke. "Things like this are great for all the candidates. Get out and meet the people, give them a chance to see what they're all about."
    To rally more people, he's relying on top New Hampshire strategists Andy Leach and Michael Bir, as well as foot soldiers like Eli Boumitri, a 46-year-old volunteer from Derry, who handed out Walker campaign stickers and other gear at a handful of stops.
    "I listened to his one speech at an NRA meeting and that was it for me. I liked the way he talked, he had three standing ovations in 10-15 minutes," he said just before Walker headed into a Sunapee, New Hampshire, stop. "His ideas and everything, I would say 99.99% I like everything he's going for."
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    Boumitri considered looking at Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, but found him to be "too much. He's not like Donald Trump, but he's right there." He also said he'd like to see Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as Walker's running mate.

    Grinding it out on the trail

    This is the second major swing for Walker through New Hampshire since he announced his White House bid in July. His first stops last month were jam-packed with people listening in on the newest entry to the race, at that point. But he canceled a planned second swing later in July to attend the funeral of one of the Marines killed in the Chattanooga, Tennessee, shooting last month.
    His campaign has yet to spend heavily on TV here, although his affiliated super PAC is planning to announce its New Hampshire air war plans soon.
    But more important, Walker said, is grinding it out on the trail, meeting voters one by one.
    "Somebody told me months and months ago here that you can't buy the vote in New Hampshire, you have to earn it," Walker told CNN. "And that's come up over and over again, people want to hear you, they want to compare you."