With less than one year before the critical Iowa caucuses, Scott Walker is gaining strength among Hawkeye State voters, according to recent polls.
The Wisconsin governor holds a commanding double-digit lead among a packed Republican field with 24 percent, according to a Feb. 12-13 Townhall/Gravis poll
of 969 registered Iowa voters.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul are tied for second at 10 percent. A Gravis poll conducted January 5-7 found former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney ahead of the field with 21 percent and Bush with 14 percent.
"We see Scott Walker leading; he clearly took the Mitt Romney vote. The debates the Republicans will have that start later in the year will be much more important than previous years," said Doug Kaplan, the managing partner of the Florida-based firm.
"It is hard in a large field to get a real number, when out of a dozen or more possible candidates, only six or eight will be viable Jan. 5, 2016, the day of the Iowa caucuses," he added.
Walker also leads in a recent Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll
, which was taken before Romney announced he would not run for the nomination, with 15 percent and is the second-choice among caucus voters who favor an "establishment" candidate
. Paul was one point behind Walker.
Outside of Iowa, Walker's prospects also are brightening. The National Journal has bumped him up to second on its GOP Presidential Power Rankings
survey, which rates potential candidates' chances of winning based "on their individual strengths and weaknesses, political organizations, poll numbers — and on the odds that they even decide to run."
Bush was rated first in the first Power Rankings survey, a position he continues to hold, but Walker has moved from fourth place into second, in part due to his strong showing at last month's Iowa Freedom Summit.
"The question now is how Walker handles the scrutiny of being a perceived front-runner. Already this past week, the Boston Globe and Washington Post published lengthy stories digging into Walker's college years. (He didn't graduate from Marquette University.)
"And during a trip last week to the United Kingdom, Walker was unprepared to answer questions about foreign policy and evolution.
"There's nothing wrong with sitting atop the polls this early; it lends Walker legitimacy in the eyes of donors and activists alike. But the Wisconsin governor now has a target on his back — and his opponents have an entire year to take their shots," The National Journal said.
Walker's reluctance to answer the question about evolution is one reason why some believe he would not make a good candidate, while his past run-ins with labor unions is another.
"Unions might otherwise feel ambivalent about a Hillary Clinton candidacy, especially with the prospect of an insurgent campaign by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who would likely embrace more firmly the divisive rhetoric about income equality that union members love to hear.
"If Walker is the GOP nominee, ambivalence will be trumped by anger. An activated and animated base of union supporters throwing money at the Democrats is a headache that Republicans don't need," writes CNN contributor Ruben Navarrette
Navarrette also argues that Walker lacks the foreign policy experience needed to lead the nation in a "dangerous world."
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