Jeb Bush and Scott Walker both have served as governors and hold similar positions on a variety of issues, but each is charting a very different course toward a potential run for the Republican presidential nomination.
"I think Jeb is counting on the party’s hunger to win, and Walker is counting on their urge to fight," Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole tells The New York Times
The Wisconsin governor is looking to bolster and energize the support he has among the party's conservative grassroots, while the former Florida governor is seeking to draw voters to his candidacy by reaching out beyond the base.
"One of them wants to re-energize the party from within, and the other one wants to re-energize the party from without," longtime GOP campaign consultant Alex Castellanos adds.
While Bush's strategy is driven in part by the recognition that the party's right doubt his conservative credentials because of his positions on immigration and the Common Core education standards, he is remaining engaged with conservatives behind the scenes.
During a recent trip to Iowa, Bush and David Kochel, the GOP strategist advising Bush's campaign, approached Bob Vander Plaats, a major evangelical leader in the Hawkeye State, to ask for a private meeting with religious leaders. Vander Plaats agreed to the meeting on the condition that Bush also speak at a Family Leader function, according to The National Journal
Following the conversation, Bush instructed his aides to make repeated follow-up contacts, a sign of the stealth campaign he is marshaling to garner support among the evangelical conservatives that play an important role in the party's primary process.
"While the candidate isn't hitting the hustings to woo rank-and-file Christian voters, he's been busy surreptitiously building a formidable coalition of socially conservative luminaries," the Journal reports. It notes that he has held private meetings with leaders of Focus on the Family, and has also met with Tim Goeglein, who worked for President George W. Bush as a faith liaison.
The different strategies adopted by Bush and Walker are more broadly seen as a rivalry between the "establishment candidates" who want to "reform" the party and conservatives who model themselves on Ronald Reagan.
"In more cautious ways, Jeb Bush is a reformist, too. He supports comprehensive immigration reform. He reaches out to Latinos in Spanish in a way conservatives might once have derided as identity politics. He focuses his economic message on helping the poor rise. He hires gay and pro-gay staff," writes Peter Beinart of The Atlantic
While Bush speaks in moderate tones about immigration, Walker has taken a strong stance against President Barack Obama's executive action to grant amnesty to some 4 million illegal immigrants, a position which has alienated some minority groups.
Beinart also sees a distinction in how the two candidates discuss the issue of economic disparity between the classes.
He notes that Bush has been more overt in addressing the class divide, while Walker says — "with Reaganesque sunniness and Reaganesque imperviousness to the facts" — that economic opportunity is the path forward and is accessible to all.
Walker believes the GOP needs a "big and bold" candidate who will be ready to take on the opposition, just as he has done in Wisconsin in taking on unions.
"If Republicans are going to win the election in the fall of 2016 we need a new fresh face, big bold ideas from outside of Washington, and someone who’s got the proven track record. ... I think that’s appealing whether it’s in New Hampshire, whether it’s in South Carolina, it’s in Florida, Wisconsin or anywhere else in the country," he said recently, according to The Miami Herald
But Republican strategist Kevin Madden sees the differences in approach between Walker and Bush as more technical than ideological.
He tells the Times that Bush is eschewing a focus on primary voters and directly making a general election pitch, while "Walker wants to appeal to the base voter who is looking for an alternative to the establishment candidate."
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