(CNN) – Unlike Republican Senate nominee Ron Johnson, the millionaire businessman looking to unseat Sen. Russell Feingold, Wisconsin gubernatorial hopeful Scott Walker doesn't have the luxury of running as an outsider at a time when veteran politicians are on the firing line.
Walker has been in politics for 17 years, first elected as a state representative in 1993 and then to the post of Milwaukee County Executive in 2002, a position he still holds. But Walker claims the same people who are "jazzed up" about Johnson are jazzed up about him.
"Because they say even though I've been in government, I am the guy who has proven he can take on the political machine," Walker told CNN in an interview at his campaign headquarters in Wauwatosa.
Walker - who leads the Democratic nominee, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, 53-42 among likely voters according to a CNN/Time/Opinion Research Corporation poll released last week - is trying to frame himself as a career reformer rather than a career politician, a fiscal crusader who holds office but isn't afraid to throw some elbows.
"When people ask me, 'How do you appeal to Tea Party folks?' I say: I was the original Tea Party in Wisconsin," Walker said. "Eight years ago we held recalls. We got rid of a county executive who had been in office almost since the time I was born."
Like many GOP candidates, Walker appears to benefiting from the sour economic climate and an ability to link Barrett to two Democrats, President Obama and Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, with approval ratings at all-time lows. Barrett is losing to Walker by 21 points among independent votes, according to the CNN poll.
"Tom Barrett has come out the political machine in Milwaukee," Walker said. "He is the political machine. He is the status quo."
Walker echoes the conservative message of outsider candidates running for office this year – to reduce the size of government and create jobs – but says he has a proven record of doing so in Milwaukee County, where he says he slashed debt without ever proposing a tax increase.
Barrett points out that he trails by just 3 points overall among registered voters and said his challenge will be to energize the Democratic base – the same voters President Obama will try to rally when he campaigns with Barrett in the college town of Madison on Tuesday.
"There is no question that Republicans were ready to vote in November of 2008, they were so angry that President Obama was elected that they are going to do everything they can do defeat him or any other Democrats for that matter," Barrett told CNN.
"The difference here, though, is that both of our candidates at the gubernatorial level, we've got records, and we're going to compare our record very, very closely with Scott Walker's record," he said. "And what we find is when that happens, people move in our direction."
Barrett is selling himself as a problem-solver who, as mayor, focused on economic development efforts and attracting jobs to the city.
Pledging to bring "adult supervision" to the governor's mansion, Barrett said his opponent has been running a campaign premised on gimmicks, namely the 68-page jobs plan Walker released this month printed in over-sized font so it would be a single page longer than Barrett's 67-page plan.
"This is the most serious time we've had economically in our country since the depression, and its like they're running for a high school class presidency," Barrett said. "I don't think people want that. I think they want maturity and real leadership."
This man presented a jobs plan for Wisconsin which was 68 pages long in 36pt font, and consisted of nothing but vague and downright ridiculous rhetoric.
The more important question is will he acturately and fairly represent the citizens of his district? Will he vote as they wish even if it goes against his personal views? What does he plan on doing when he can't get anyone to support legislation he proposes passed? He will be only one of 435 members of the House.
I thought Dick Armey and Ron Paul were the "Original Tea Party." Who the heck is this guy? Just another radical trying to make a name for himself. I wonder what's his position on infrastructure spending and stimulus money since a levee has been breached in his state.
We need a Libertarian in the Presidency!!!!
I'm voting against this guy.
I wouldn't vote for Scott Walker when I lived in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin and I wouldn't vote for him now. He isn't worth a vote for anything. I'm a life long Republican but I voted for Tom Barrett for Congress because he was the best candidate. He still is the best candidate for any office. I hope Wisconsinites think long and hard if they want to vote for Scott Walker. You won't get what you think you are voting for. Just look at his record, his jobs plan (really – large font – how lame) and his "I am the original" Tea Party statements. Nothing has changed with Scott. S.O.S. – Same Old Scott. Be smart and vote for Tom Barrett! I wish I could!
Scott Walker is the real deal. He has taken a criminal situation in Milwaukee County (there was a huge pension scandal that helped get him elected) and helped create a surplus. His jobs plan is to create incentives to get private sector jobs to move into Wisconsin. Currently our state government, under both a Dem. governor and a Dem. legislature, has created a terrible business environment that has pushed jobs out of the state. Something has to give, and Walker is just the beginning.
PS The Dem. candidate has recently announced a zero tax increase budget (in an election year) which is the first that he has proposed since he took office.
Tom Barrett has been good for Milwaukee. Scott Walker has been so-so for Milwaukee County - no disasters, but he also didn't take advantage of the good time while they were here. Just a slow slide downhill that's speeding up with the recession. A governor needs to be more than penny-wise and pound foolish. It's been eight years and we're still not out of the hole Tommy Thompson and his shady accounting dug us into. But to get out of a hole first you need to want to get out of it - "small government" is about staying in the hole forever. I'll be voting for Barrett for Governor because there are some things that government does best, and will need to do especially well if we're going to get out of the current mess.
I am NOT a fan of the dems agenda right now, but as a milwaukee resident this guy is an idiot and pray he doesn't win. He is the reason many of county employees now have required furlow days, he also trying to kill our county transit system. He can take his brown bag and shove it. This guy is sara palin except at least sarah ended up with a 4year degree from college this guy couldnt even manage that and wasted 4 years in college without getting a degree.