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Slumping Badly In Polls, Scott Walker Quits GOP Race


For months, one name at a time, the Republican presidential field grew.


Now it's shrinking. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was at one time considered a leading contender. Yesterday, he officially called it quits.

GREENE: Walker was slumping badly in the polls. And like some other candidates, he was struggling to break through in a field dominated by Donald Trump. Here's NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: At a hastily called event in Madison, Governor Walker stood before the cameras and made the announcement.


SCOTT WALKER: I will suspend my campaign immediately.

GONYEA: No big crowd, no hoopla and a huge reversal from earlier this year. In January...


GONYEA: When the Wisconsin governor bounded onto the stage in Des Moines at the 2016 campaign's first big GOP candidate forum in Iowa. Walker had just won reelection back home and survived a recall 18 months before that. He led off this speech by recounting his battles with public employee unions in Wisconsin. He spoke of the massive protests and of the death threats he'd received.


WALKER: Most of those death threats were pointed at or directed at me. But some of the worst were directed at my family. I remember one of the ones that bothered me the most was someone literally sent me a threat that said they were going to gut my wife like a deer.

GONYEA: On that day, Walker touted his record as a conservative who can win in a blue state. The speech was a huge hit. And he was instantly labeled a contender. A month later, at the big Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, he sparked controversy with this answer to a question about how he'd handle ISIS.


WALKER: If I could take on a hundred thousand protesters, I could do the same across the world.


GONYEA: Unions were outraged, saying Walker had compared them to terrorists. Conservatives cheered. But along with the blunt talk that Walker had become famous for, there were also curious moments when he wouldn't answer even basic questions. During a trip overseas to London, Walker refused to discuss foreign policy. He was interviewed before an audience by a BBC journalist who was frustrated by the lack of answers, including on evolution.


UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: Are you comfortable with the idea of evolution? Do you believe in it? Do you accept it?

WALKER: (Laughter) For me, I'm going to punt on that one as well because...


WALKER: That does you...


WALKER: That's a question a politician shouldn't be involved in one way or the other.

GONYEA: Still, Walker was at or near the top of the polls by late March. With support from the Koch brothers, he had enough money. He didn't know it at the time though, but that was his peak. Then Donald Trump got into the race, and Walker faded. That was clear at the Iowa State Fair in August from voters like Dan Arthur, who spoke to NPR.

DAN ARTHUR: Meteoric rise, self-destructed - it's almost like his personality faded. He blanded (ph) himself off the map.

GONYEA: He blanded himself off the map.

ARTHUR: That's what I call it, yeah.


ARTHUR: He has no spice.

GONYEA: Even in the two debates, he was just a minor presence. Then came a CNN poll that had him registering at not even 1 percent, a mere blip. In suspending his campaign, Walker had an unusual request for others in the field.


WALKER: I encourage other Republican presidential candidates to consider doing the same so that the voters can focus on a limited number of candidates who can offer a positive conservative alternative to the current front-runner.

GONYEA: That was a jab at Donald Trump. Walker feels the way to beat Trump is to consolidate the opposition. But he didn't say who should be the nominee. It won't be Scott Walker, who never imagined things would end so abruptly. Don Gonyea, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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