As governor, he has tried to practice the thrift he preaches.
The budget he signed this year, for example, includes a rejection of the Medicaid expansion offered under President Obama’s health care law, a $650 million income tax cut, a two-year freeze on university tuition, a limit of 1 percent per year on increases in home property taxes and an expansion of private-school vouchers.
Mr. Walker’s fiscal conservatism has produced improvements but no miracles.
While the national unemployment rate fell to 7.4 percent in July, Wisconsin’s was down by four-tenths more, to 6.8 percent (a preliminary estimate) from the 7.7 percent that prevailed when Mr. Walker took office in January 2011, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
Wisconsin now ranks 20th overall in unemployment.
Among the best states for business, Wisconsin ranks as 17th, up three places from last year, according to ChiefExecutive.com. Faring a bit worse in a CNBC rating, Wisconsin ranks 22nd best for business this year, up two places from last year.
That is not as good as the business rankings of other Midwestern states such as Iowa (13) or Indiana (18), but better than Ohio’s 28th, Michigan’s 29th or Illinois’ 44th.
Although Wisconsin rose to 33 among the 50 states in job creation last year, it continued to lag behind the national rate, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this year. Under Mr. Walker, the state gained 62,082 private-sector jobs during his first two years in office.
No Wisconsin Republican interviewed for this article predicted that Mr. Walker would fulfill his 2010 campaign promise of 250,000 more private-sector jobs by the end of his four-year term. But most did claim that the instability and uncertainties for business investment created by the battles with unions that led to recall elections for four GOP state senators and for Mr. Walker made it more difficult to fulfill that job-creation goal.
His immediate problem is that polling shows his favorable rating with voters at less than 50 percent and just 2 percentage points above his unfavorable rating.
While others in his party who are eyeing 2016 have been making the rounds of early presidential primary states, usually to help raise money for Republicans in those states, Mr. Walker has carefully cultivated a homebody image.
Friends say he is acutely aware that every time he leaves the state, the Democrats say, “There he goes again.”
They also say that if he fails to win re-election as governor, he will all but kill his chances to be a serious national contender in 2016. Even if he is re-elected, he has told friend he will stand down if Mr. Ryan runs for the GOP nomination.
While some politicians are good at winning elections but can’t seem to manage a two-car funeral, managerial ability is a big Walker strength. Some Republican campaign operatives think most voters prefer a presidential nominee who has demonstrated executive ability, as evidenced by the preponderance of governors or former governors who win their party’s nomination — John McCain, John F. Kerry and Barack Obama notwithstanding. Mr. Walker does have that — executive of Milwaukee County is considered a big job in the state.