But when it comes to winning the White House, Walker has sounded less than supportive of a candidacy by his fellow Badger State lawmaker, suggesting someone more like himself.
“There’s no doubt, as much as I love Paul and some other people mentioned, in my mind it’s almost a given that not only for the future of the party but for the future of the country we need to elect either a current or a former governor,” Walker, a possible 2016 contestant, recently told USA Today.
The next race for president is still in the embryonic stage, with no major candidates declared and the election calendar not even set. But in a lineup unprecedented in modern times, the field of possible candidates includes several hailing from the same handful of states.
In addition to Wisconsin’s Ryan and Walker, the Republican field could include two hopefuls from Texas — Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Ted Cruz — and two from Florida, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio.
Among Democrats, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is seen as a prohibitive favorite, though her home-state governor, New York’s Andrew Cuomo, has also been mentioned as a possible candidate in 2016.
Some may end up deferring to others. Even before he finished a round of Washington book-tour interviews, Walker had qualified his comments about Ryan, telling reporters the eight-term congressman was “one of the exceptions” to his beyond-the-Beltway rule.
But if just a handful of those same-state prospects were to run, the result would be a contest more sharply competitive than usual, as candidates would vie in not just the usual steeplechase of cross-country caucuses and primaries but also would fight for home-state donors, strategists, campaign volunteers and even bragging rights as a favorite son or daughter.
It is a prospect that some are dreading. “It’s going to be awkward as hell if both of them run for president at the same time,” said Tom Slade, a former Florida Republican Party chairman and longtime GOP activist, speaking of Bush and Rubio. “I’ll probably go fishing until they sort it out. Then help whoever the Republican nominee is.”
For now, protocol — and political strategy — require prospective White House candidates to eschew interest in anything beyond the 2014 midterm elections. Some, like Walker and Ryan, have to win reelection next year before they can safely look ahead to a presidential bid in 2016.
That has not, however, stopped some early sniping.
Perry, who is serving out his last term as governor and mulling a second run for president after a failed 2012 attempt, has taken several shots at Cruz, who was elected to the Senate just last year. Cruz’s unremitting opposition to President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul and leading role in October’s government shutdown have made him a favorite of tea party conservatives. Already, he has ventured to several early-voting 2016 states.
In an overseas interview with the Washington Times, a favorite conservative outlet, Perry called the shutdown “political theater” and dismissed the senator’s growing political fan club. “No one has come up to me and even said the word ‘Cruz,’ ” Perry said of his trip to London and Jerusalem. “Not once did I hear that.”
A Cruz spokesman, Sean Rushton, responded: “The senator is focused on representing his state in Washington and the Senate. That’s where the battle is right now and that’s where all his energy and time are focused.”
The Walker campaign declined to comment on the governor’s initial skepticism and later turnabout regarding a Ryan candidacy, as did a spokesman for the congressman.
Rivalry among politicians from the same state is not unusual, even if they share the same basic philosophy and political party. They often jockey for higher office, elbow for attention and compete for credit whenever there is good news; some of the fiercest fighting in politics is between staff members whose bosses are, at least nominally, allies.
But “the search for money is probably the biggest flash point,” said Ross K. Baker, a Rutgers University political scientist who has written about the tensions between same-state lawmakers. To help smooth relations they might refrain from heavy fundraising outside their election cycle, a bit of professional politesse that is impossible if both are simultaneously seeking the White House.
While the Internet has allowed presidential aspirants to build a far-flung network of contributors, the place they usually start fundraising is close to home, where familiar donors offer the easiest pickings. Clashes seem inevitable: Even big states like Florida and Texas have a finite number of people capable of writing big checks or raising the millions of dollars a viable presidential candidate needs.
Financial considerations may be less important, however, than the personal chemistry between possible in-state competitors.
While Perry and Cruz are not especially close — Cruz beat Perry’s preferred candidate en route to his Senate seat — people who know both Walker and Ryan say the two genuinely like each other and would be loath to face off as presidential rivals. In Florida, Bush has been a mentor to Rubio, a freshman senator, and Republicans there find it unthinkable that the two men would fight each other for the party’s nomination.
The question then becomes who among the possible contestants would defer to whom; few ambitious politicians peer into the mirror and see an also-ran.