The only governor in U.S. history to survive a recall, Wisconsin's Scott Walker is headed for a re-election race this fall that may determine whether or not he seeks the Republican nomination for president in 2016.
A national conservative hero for pushing through reforms that required public employees to pay a portion of their pension and healthcare plans, Walker in 2012 survived a union-fueled recall effort with 54 percent of the vote.
Last year, he was wildly cheered by overflow crowds at such Republican events as the Mackinac Conference in Michigan and the Prescott Bush Dinner in Connecticut.
Iowa and New Hampshire seemed the next logical steps in Walker's lightning career.
But before seeking national office, Walker, 46, has to first win his third race for governor in four years. This is by no means a slam-dunk.
A just-completed Marquette University poll shows that among likely Wisconsin voters, Walker leads Democrat Mary Burke by a margin of 47 percent to 41 percent. The latest Rasmussen poll shows the race a dead heat, with Walker and Burke, a member of the Madison Board of Education, at 45 percent each.
"When you see the TV spots slamming Gov. Walker and then watch his ads firing back, you'd think it was mid-September instead of March here," veteran Wisconsin GOP consultant Scott Becher told Newsmax.
Walker fans outside Wisconsin wonder why a governor who accomplished so much as a reformer and also survived a recall is now in such a precarious position — especially against a relatively obscure opponent. Burke served as state commerce secretary and comes from a family with wealth derived from manufacturing racing bikes.
As the governor himself explained to Newsmax during a visit to Washington, D.C., last November, "I have never avoided hard decisions in order to try to boost my poll numbers. When you want to make significant changes, you are bound to make people mad at you and some are very unforgiving.
"If it means winning a close election after getting those changes in policy made, then I'm never going to win by any landslide."
The positive legacy of Walker's agenda in his first term was spelled out to Newsmax last week by Wisconsin's GOP Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.
"We came into office with a $362 million deficit," said Kleefisch, a former TV anchorwoman, who was in Washington for a meeting of the Republican lieutenant governors.
"In the last two years, we've had back-to-back surpluses, and this year the surplus will be $911.9 million. We've overseen $406 million in property tax relief, and as a result of changing the withholding policy of our taxes, $57 a month will be coming back in paychecks beginning in April."
"That's $681 a year, a significant chunk of change and enough to buy 189 gallons of gas or 337 packages of butter."
Kleefisch also noted that unemployment is down in Wisconsin from 9.2 percent when she and Walker took office in 2011 to 6.1 percent this year, and economic growth is up.
Never seemingly short of new initiatives, Walker is now promoting a measure known as "Open Book Wisconsin" to provide greater transparency within state government.
But such a record does not by any means guarantee Walker re-election this fall, particularly in a state Barack Obama carried twice and where organized labor has never forgiven him for the reforms that make him a prospective presidential hopeful in 2016.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.