Scott Walker brought his Midwestern swagger to New Hampshire on Saturday, leading a crowd of activists to cheers as he sought to draw a contrast to his top-tier rival in the unofficial GOP presidential race, Jeb Bush.
The Wisconsin governor, amid charges from critics that he’s a flip-flopper, also acknowledged that he had changed positions on immigration reform but argued that he’s remained consistent in everything else.
’Living the high life’
Walker was met with great fanfare at his only open event during his two-day stop to the first-in-the-nation primary state. Activists gathered at Concord High School for a training event that was hosted by the New Hampshire GOP and headlined by Walker’s appearance.
The contrasts made against Bush were subtle, but Walker emphasized his modest roots as the son of a preacher and reiterated his penchant for shopping at Kohl’s while armed with coupons.
“I actually stopped by Kohl’s and bought this sweater in the rack where it’s 70% off,” he said, pointing to the sweater he was wearing. “And we paid one dollar for it with our Kohl’s Cash … so, living the high life.”
Walker has used his humble beginnings and department store bona fides in Iowa, as well, a strategy aimed to cement the fact that he didn’t grow up with “fame and fortune,” as he frequently says.
He also put on a cap handed to him by an audience member with the logo for Gun Owners of New Hampshire.
“You’ve got a first-rate record on the Second Amendment; we hope you’ll wear the hat often and keep up the good work,” the man said. Walker wore it for the rest of his time on stage.
(While he may have donned the cap-and-sweater look Saturday afternoon, he was set to sport a tux later that night for his speaking appearance at the Gridiron Club’s annual white-tie dinner in Washington, D.C., where President Barack Obama was also scheduled to speak.)
Answering a question from another audience member, Walker also laid down his staunch opposition to Common Core, a set of testing standards that Bush defended as usual during his visit to New Hampshire on Friday. Walker also stood against re-authorizing the No Child Left Behind Act, another topic on which the two Republicans disagree.
Those comments came after Walker argued, in an interview with Tampa Bay Times on Friday, that Bush would represent a step towards the past, rather than the future.
“We had Bob Dole, John McCain, Mitt Romney. If it’s just whoever’s next up, that hasn’t worked so well for the Republican party in the past,” he said. “Jeb’s a good man. You’re not going to hear me speak ill will of Jeb … I just think voters are going to look at this and say, ‘If we’re running against Hillary Clinton, we’ll need a name from the future – not a name from the past – to win.’ “
In his remarks Saturday, Walker also hit the President over foreign policy and took a shot at Hillary Clinton for giving “Russia a reset button.”
On domestic policy, he laid out his small-government vision for a system in which success is measured by “how many people are no longer dependent on the government.”
’Listening to the people’
Asked by reporters Saturday to respond to flip-flopping accusations by his critics, Walker said the “the only major issue out there was immigration.”
Indeed Walker reversed his stance earlier this month when he acknowledged that he’s no longer in favor of legislation that would let undocumented immigrants remain in the United States.
He said Saturday that his change in tune reflected the will of the public.
“This is one where we listened to the people all across the country, particularly border governors who saw how this President messed that up and that’s an issue where I think people want leaders who are willing to listen to the people on that,” he said.
Any other accusations of flip-flopping, he added, “are just ridiculous.”
Critics have argued that Walker has been taking a tougher line against abortion in an effort to woo conservatives during the primaries. The governor recently expressed support for a 20-week abortion ban, after first declining to state his position during his re-election bid in the fall that. And critics point to an ad by his campaign in which Walker said he supports legislation that leaves “the final decision to a woman and her doctor.”
Walker said Saturday he’s remained steady in his views on abortion.
“I’m pro-life. My position is consistent on that,” he said. “They’re taking an ad out there that talked about what the law did in the state which was endorsed by Wisconsin Right to Life, so it’s a pro-life law.”
He also defended his support for the federal ethanol mandate that helps Iowa farmers, despite opposing it in Wisconsin in the past.
Walker’s more private itinerary included meetings with New Hampshire business and political leaders, including former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who resides in New Hampshire and ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate seat in the state last year.