Wisconsin’s Walker a hit on the road

But GOP governor is fighting a strong recall effort at home

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OKLAHOMA CITY — The preacher’s son laughed and joked as he took a seat among the biggest players in Oklahoma politics, some of whom paid $10,000 to break bread with their conservative hero and get a photo snapped.

It was just another day on the road for Scott Walker. A year after his showdown with labor protesters, the Wisconsin governor has become one of the most sought-after figures in the Republican Party, keeping a jet-setting travel schedule more akin to a presidential candidate than a governor trying to survive a recall challenge.

“He’s exactly what this country needs in terms of leadership,” said banker Bob Emery of Enid, Okla., who was seated at a nearby table, clearly in awe. “The courage he has had … is what wells up in me. The man is absolutely doing what he believes in.”

Mr. Walker is getting similar reactions all across the country. He’s been to California, New York, Texas, Arizona, Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida just to name a few. On Friday, he was in St. Louis to receive the National Rifle Association’s Harlon B. Carter Legislative Achievement Award, the highest honor conferred by the gun rights group.

Mr. Walker got loud cheers and a standing ovation. As he approached the podium, a woman yelled out, “We’re with you, Scott!” He replied, “We’re with you, too.”

Mr. Walker now regularly huddles with the wealthy and the famous. He attended a Christmas party thrown by Grover Norquist, the conservative power broker, and raised money with Hank Greenberg, founder and former CEO of American International Group, at his Manhattan, N.Y., office.

Last week, he mingled with Oklahoma’s corporate elite and top Republicans at a fundraiser co-sponsored by Koch Industries, the oil company led by billionaire brothers who are top backers of conservative causes nationwide.

As Mr. Walker stares down a June 5 recall election, he has used his cachet as a conservative hero to rake in campaign cash never before seen in Wisconsin. And it’s put his Democratic challengers at a disadvantage in their effort to make him only the third governor in the nation’s history to be ousted in a recall.

“He has become something of a rock star nationally for right-wing conservatives,” said Mike McCabe, director of the government watchdog group the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. “There’s appeal there, and I think he’s found it pretty easy to get people to crack their checkbooks.”

Texas financier Bob Perry gave Mr. Walker two $250,000 checks and is his single biggest donor. Mr. Perry helped pay for the Swift Boat Veterans ads that attacked Sen. John F. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, during the 2004 presidential campaign. Fourteen of Mr. Walker’s top 20 donors are from outside Wisconsin, according to an analysis by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

Those out-of-state backers have helped him raise $12.1 million between January 2011 and mid-January of this year. That is the most ever raised by a candidate for state office in Wisconsin, breaking the record Mr. Walker himself set by raising $10 million on his way to victory in 2010.

Mr. McCabe predicts the total amount spent on the recall election will be between $60 million and $80 million, shattering the previous record of about $37 million from 2010.

While Mr. Walker is tapping a national fundraising base, it’s not so easy knowing where he has been, where he is or where he plans to go — his campaign refuses to release his private schedule, saying it is under no obligation to do so.

Part of the problem with publicizing his schedule is that protesters tend to follow wherever he goes.

Union organizers claimed victory after Mr. Walker canceled an appearance at a November fundraiser in Wichita, Kan., with Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.

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