URBANDALE, Iowa — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker came to Iowa to spread the message that his record distinguishes him from other presidential hopefuls as a fighter who wins, and he appeared to find a number of foot soldiers ready to march on his behalf. At a cookout in Urbandale this weekend, two such Walker supporters confronted a cluster of protesters seeking to disrupt the governor's remarks.
As Walker delivered a speech from a parking lot located just steps away, the eight protesters taunted the governor and his supporters. When the tongues stopped wagging and the index fingers stopped flying, it was clear the governor's presence had inspired Iowans on both sides to give up their summer night in order to impact his success in the Hawkeye State.
"He's my man because he's the one candidate they can't come up with any more crap on," said Mark Schweers, a Des Moines resident that challenged the protesters. "Unions did everything they could to beat him in three different elections and every time he nailed them. Every time he beat them worse. That's why they're so frustrated right now, they know he's the biggest challenge to Hillary."
Michael J. Gass, a correctional officer and member of his local union, said the reason he and his fellow protesters picketed the Walker event was because they were worried the Wisconsin governor's success in dismantling public sector unions would spread to Iowa if he won the presidency.
But the over-capacity crowds that consistently flocked to each of the governor's campaign stops diluted Gass' efforts. At a town hall forum in Cedar Rapids, the Walker team seemed determined not to turn anyone away. The general public mixed in with the press, and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with photographers and television cameramen perched in the back of the room.
While larger venues would have ensured every Iowan who wanted to see Walker had the chance to do so, the governor's first three stops in Iowa on Friday each drew crowds numbering in the hundreds. The Family Leader's annual summit in Ames on Saturday provided an even larger audience for Walker.
As Bob Vander Plaats, CEO of the Family Leader, sat backstage waiting for the day's events to begin, he told the Washington Examiner that he expected a record crowd of nearly 3,000 attendees. Visibly anxious, Vander Plaats described the event as his organization's Super Bowl, with 10 presidential candidates flocking to the auditorium and attendees gathering outside the doors for more than an hour before the event was set to begin.
Vander Plaats said he would wait to endorse a presidential candidate until later this year, around the Thanksgiving holiday. But he said many attendees find Walker appealing as they seek to learn more about the Wisconsinite running for president.
"What Governor Walker has done, he has put together a very impressive resume of accomplishment," Vander Plaats said. "There's a lot of bold and courageous leaders who are going to talk a really good game, but they may not have the results behind that good game."
Walker spoke last among the presidential candidates at the Family Leadership Summit, long after Donald Trump's controversial comments about Sen. John McCain's, R-Ariz., career in the armed services set off a media firestorm. But the summit is not the first major social conservative event where Walker has had the final say. When Walker spoke at the Faith and Freedom Coalition's annual conference in Washington, D.C., before announcing his candidacy he also spoke last — and was the keynote speaker of the event's formal dinner.
Walker will need the support of the evangelical Christians and social conservatives who journeyed to Iowa State University's campus in order to win the caucuses. Walker began several of his appearances in Iowa with a prayer for the Marines murdered in Chattanooga, Tenn., including one Wisconsinite. Onstage in Ames, he explained the role his Christian faith has on his day-to-day life and how it prevented him from lashing out at protesters swarming his state's capitol.
"The beginning of the day, end of my day, starts and begins in prayer because for me that defines everything," Walker said. "That doesn't mean I have a list everyday that's given to me like the Ten Commandments and what to do on every single issue, but it defines not just who I am and what I believe in, but how I treat others."
Walker visited 10 counties in Iowa this weekend, and promises to hit all 99 counties as he works toward winning the caucuses. Along the way he will need to best two previous standouts from past caucuses — former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — who are running again, and fresher opponents such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal who received thunderous applause at the summit.
In Urbandale this weekend, Walker momentarily stumbled when he mentioned being "back in Wisconsin," before catching himself. Walker lived in Iowa from 1970 to 1977 and he sounded prepared to return to the state often as the caucuses approach.
"I'll probably be here more than I'll be there [Wisconsin]," he said when hugging a supporter near the campaign's Winnebago in Urbandale.