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Badger State Republicans swear that there’s nothing in the water in southeast Wisconsin. But for the next few years, the GOP’s fate could rest with three men who hail from there and who have become crucial leaders in the national party.
The trio, House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, Gov. Scott Walker and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, has a strong personal and professional bond. They talk regularly and compare notes on policy and political strategy, alternately offering and seeking advice. Ryan, 43, and Walker, 45, are considered strong 2016 presidential contenders, and it’s up to Priebus to ensure that the eventual GOP nominee is backed by a modernized, competitive field and data operation.
Unclear is whether Walker will defer to Ryan, the 2012 vice presidential nominee, on a 2016 White House run.
GOP observers agree that it’s unrealistic for two Wisconsin Republicans to run, particularly because they hail from the same generation and share the same conservative approach to governing. Some party insiders believe Walker will wait on Ryan, who could tip his hand later this year by telling his House colleagues whether he intends to run for Ways and Means chairman. The post opens in 2015, and Ryan has described it as his dream job.
But others, noting that Walker’s ambition surpasses simply winning a second gubernatorial term in 2014, say he will make his decision about national office independent of Ryan.
As Ryan sets the Republican Party’s fiscal agenda from his perch in Washington and Walker presents a model for conservative governance in the states, Priebus, 41, could play a key role in reviving his party’s political fortunes nationally, after the GOP got outclassed by President Barack Obama last year.
“If they’re successful, they’ll bring huge change across the party,” said Ron Kaufman, a longtime Republican operative who served as a senior adviser to 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Priebus, Ryan and Walker came of age politically during the same period and were influenced to some degree by Tommy Thompson, a former four-term Republican governor and failed 2012 Senate candidate. Their three hometowns are located within miles of each other in the southeast corner of Wisconsin that is included in the 1st District — a former swing seat represented by Ryan since 1998.