Is Scott Walker on his way to 2016 front-runner status?

Scott Walker has a 16 point lead (56-40) among likely voters in his race for governor, according to a poll from Wisconsin Public Radio/St. Norbert’s. Among registered voters, his lead is essentially the same (55-40).

The survey was conducted between March 24 and April 3. A Marquette University survey conducted between March 20-23 also showed Walker with a nice, though smaller, lead. In that poll, Walker outdistanced Democrat Mary Burke 48-41.

Revealingly, Walker fares well in an electorate that does not seem particularly conservative and that, if anything, appears to be slightly to the left of American voters in general. Among those surveyed in the WPR/St. Norbert’s poll, 48 percent had a favorable view of President Obama; 50 percent had an unfavorable view. Obama generally fares worse than that in national polling. In addition, Wisconsin’s liberal Senator Tammy Baldwin had a positive rating — 44 percent approve; 33 percent disapprove.

In this context, Walker’s popularity is particularly striking. 59 percent approve of his performance, while only 39 percent disapprove.

Walker’s approval numbers basically track the right direction/wrong direction numbers for his State. 57 percent said that Wisconsin is moving in the right direction, while 38 percent said its moving in the wrong direction. By contrast only 32 percent believe the United States is moving in the right direction. 63 percent think we’re moving the other way.

Let’s assume that Scott Walker is reelected decisively in November. In that event, it’s clear that he will receive a boost among Republicans nationally.

The buzz among Republican accompanying a big Walker victory would probably dwarf the considerable buzz that followed Chris Christie’s runaway win in New Jersey. Many conservatives had serious doubts (or worse) about the New Jersey governor even when he was riding high. No serious doubts exist for Walker, although most conservatives will want to learn more before embracing him as a presidential candidate.

The other thing that accompanied Christie’s big win was intense scrutiny from the mainstream media. Suddenly, his campaign for local office 20 years ago became an issue. Even his high school baseball career received attention.

Scott Walker is in for the same treatment. Indeed, it has already started.

But Walker is a less inviting target than Christie. He carries himself with more humility and less bravado (which isn’t difficult). And he has been cautious in speaking about issues that don’t relate directly to Wisconsin.

I expect that, with a solid victory in November, Scott Walker will become the effective front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination. By effective front-runner, I mean the most likely nominee (assuming he wants the nomination), not necessarily the Republican who polls the best in early surveys.

To the extent that polls show Walker likely to get his solid victory, he can perhaps already be considered the effective front-runner.

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