OKLAHOMA CITY – Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin impressed conservative candidates in Oklahoma City Thursday, continuing the early wave of momentum he's been building for months on the trail.
Walker won the day as a trio of likely (but still undeclared) Republican presidential candidates argued that America needs them – and only them – in 2016.
Three of the 10 likely or declared Republican candidates speaking at this week’s Southern Republican Leadership Conference took the stage Thursday amid local Oklahoma Republicans' addresses to make their case to more than 1,000 southern activists.
In the first headlining speech of the event, the Wisconsin governor argued that he’s the lone conservative with a record of both winning elections and legislative battles and that he's the one America needs to rescue the country.
“There are a lot of folks out there who have done a really effective job winning elections, a lot of my friends of mine … they’ve won a lot of elections but they haven’t taken a lot of fights,” Walker said. “I’ve yet to see anyone in the field or approaching field who has done both.”
It appears to have been a winning strategy for Walker, who impressed the crowd and earned numerous standing ovations by boasting about going after unions and liberals in his state, implementing voter ID, and cutting taxes; he continued to build on the buzz he’s enjoyed since January, when his stump speech impressed Iowa conservatives and put him on the proverbial map.
Just over 100 miles from the Texas border, that state's former Gov. Rick Perry argued that he could salvage the nation from its downward spiral thanks to his conservative record. “It’s going to be a show-me-don’t-tell-me election where people look past the rhetoric and say 'show me the record,'” Perry thundered to hundreds of attendees, arguing that a leader with a record of balanced budgets and growing jobs is key. “Nobody gave me the how-to book on how to handle the border crisis [and Ebola]” Perry continued. “That’s what executive leadership is all about, that’s what I think America is hungry for, someone who has been tested and we’ve been tested in the state of Texas.”
His arguments also impressed the crowd -- though not as much as Walker's did -- and his natural sense of humor earned him laughs.
The state's 2012 winner, however, didn't see such a warm reception. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum – who won Oklahoma’s primary in 2012 -- saw a more tepid response than either governor, yet another indicator that the 2012 alternative will struggle to win the acclaim he enjoyed just four years ago.
Still, he too argued that only he can bring conservatism to the White House in 2016. “We need someone who has experience in this area, someone who has served in Washington on relevant committees like the Armed Services committees, worked on national security issues,” Santorum said, arguing that his experience on said committee has best prepared him to battle the Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in 2016.