If you want to understand the meat of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's electoral strategy, the best place to start might be voter ID.
Walker emailed supporters on Wednesday asking for donations to celebrate the Supreme Court's decision this week to allow Wisconsin's voter ID law to go forward, despite protests from critics who argue it will keep eligible voters from the polls in response to a negligible number of in-person voter fraud cases.
"It's a fact of life: There are cheaters who vote multiple times and they tarnish democracy's most precious gift ... the security of the ballot box," Walker wrote in the email. "It saddens me that some people are so caught up in their radical fringe ideology that they think they can flaunt the rules and get away with it. The next time they try, they WON'T get away with it because of our photo-ID-to-vote law."
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The email was to supporters of his gubernatorial campaign, but Walker has made his support for voter ID laws a major part of his emerging presidential run as well. One of his biggest applause lines in his breakout speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit in January was about his success passing the Wisconsin law.
Critics argue the voter ID crusade is a solution in search of a problem. One national study found just 31 incidents of reported fraud out of over 1 billion votes cast since 2000 that would have been stopped by ID laws. A federal judge who ruled against the ID law last year noted in her decision that Wisconsin officials defending the law "could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past."
"More Scott Walker aides have been indicted than people have been convicted of voter impersonation."'
Voter ID laws enjoy almost universal support among Republicans, but Walker's choice to emphasize them so heavily speaks to a broader electoral strategy. Few positions are more viscerally toxic with black voters, many of whom view them as one part of a broader national strategy to suppress minority votes that includes cutting back early and weekend voting days.
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, after embarking on a listening tour of minority communities nationally, urged Republicans to at least downplay their enthusiasm for such laws if they want to make any inroads in 2016.
“I think it’s wrong for Republicans to go too crazy on this issue because it’s offending people," Paul told The New York Times last year, while clarifying afterward that he supported voter ID laws himself.
The difference in tone, if not support, speaks to a difference of electoral strategies. Paul has made the case that the GOP needs to attract new voters to win, especially younger voters and minorities who have sided strongly with Democrats in recent elections. Walker, by contrast, has tended toward a more base-focused approach both in Wisconsin and in his early national run that emphasizes firing up loyal conservatives with standard GOP positions to overrun the other side rather than rocking the boat too much internally.
In a statement, Democratic National Committee spokesman Michael Tyler criticized Walker for fundraising off the court decision.
"Walker says that 'no one likes a cheater.' The only thing being cheated here is the democratic process in Wisconsin," Tyler wrote. "Those who might be inclined to make a contribution off of such a cynical ploy should remember that in Wisconsin, more Scott Walker aides have been indicted than people have been convicted of voter impersonation. Scott Walker should be ashamed of himself."
The "indicted" line was a reference to a series of investigations stemming from Walker's time as Milwaukee County Executive that resulted in several aides being charged with crimes, including illegal campaign activity and embezzlement. Walker was never accused of any wrongdoing.