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Once a Rising Star, Gov. Scott Walker Searches for Place in Trump's GOP

Gov. Scott Walker became one of the country’s biggest Republican stars by battling labor unions and fending off a recall campaign amid mass protests at the state Capitol.

By Tim Craig

Gov. Scott Walker became one of the country’s biggest Republican stars by battling labor unions and fending off a recall campaign amid mass protests at the state Capitol.

But as a crowded field of Democrats competes in Tuesday’s primary to challenge Walker again in November, the governor has struggled to find his path in a fast-changing GOP.

Walker, 50, like many Republicans whose national aspirations were upended by Donald Trump, failed to gain traction in the 2016 presidential race. Then he watched as Trump became the first Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan to win Wisconsin, effectively transforming the tea-party network that once bolstered Walker into the core of Trump’s unpredictable base.

Lately, Walker has taken to billing himself as the “education governor,” provoking outrage from Democrats who note he oversaw years of stagnant funding for public schools. He has largely abandoned his slams on former president Barack Obama’s health-care law. And he rarely mentions one of his signature achievements — passage of the controversial 2011 law that shattered public employees’ union powers.

“In 2014 we reacted to what people were asking about then and two years ago we began listening sessions in every county,” Walker said, acknowledging that his 2018 campaign has emphasized different issues than his past races, “and these are things you hear about.”

Walker kicked off a six-day, 21-stop bus tour late last week by stressing the state’s 2.9 percent unemployment rate and his success at balancing the state budget.

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