Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker kicked off the North Carolina GOP state convention Friday night in a packed Raleigh Convention Center ballroom.
Walker spent most of the day in Raleigh, speaking to a Civitas Institute donor crowd, doing TV media interviews at the state legislative building and celebrating National Doughnut Day with Lt. Gov. Dan Forest at Raleigh’s downtown Krispy Kreme.
During his speech at the convention, Walker gave his pitch for why he would be a good candidate for president.
The governor said that of the large number of great Republican candidates there are two groups: fighters and winners.
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The fighters he defined as those in the U.S. Senate who fight hard but have yet to win anything. The winners he defined as current and former governors, who are good at winning elections but have not consistently fought the big fights.
“If we were to get into this race, it would be because I think there is a yearning in America for someone who can fight and win for hardworking taxpayers,” Walker said.
“We have fought the good fight and won those fights, not just at the ballot box three times in four years in a blue state, but more importantly we have won every single one of those fights we engaged in.”
Walker has not formally declared his candidacy but said he would announce his intentions after Wisconsin passes its state budget.
Walker hit on his usual three-point vision for the future of the United States – growth, reform and safety – while sharing some of his accomplishments as governor of the Badger State.
Economic growth occurs when government steps aside and empowers the people, Walker said.
“People like Hilary Clinton think the way you grow the economy is by growing Washington,” he said. “The rest of us in reality need to tell Washington that true growth happens in cities and towns and villages all across this great country. People create jobs, not the government.”
Since Walker took office, he said unemployment went from 9.2 percent in 2010 to 4.6 percent this spring.
He said reform should be measured by how many people are no longer dependent on the government. And safety is how Walker refers to issues of national security.
“National security is something you read about in the newspaper, safety is something you feel,” he said.
Walker said that the biggest safety threat is radical Islamic terrorists and that it is only a matter of time before there is another attack on American soil. The nation needs a leader who has the courage to take the fight to the enemy before it comes here, he said, receiving standing applause from the 600-plus members of the dinner crowd.
With front-row seats, Alex Kehayes, a commissioner on the Chowan County Board, said he favors Walker because of “his record to get a lot done with massive opposition.”
“It’s early in an open race, but the fact that someone shows up, looks me in the face and talks to me goes a long way,” Kehayes said, showing a picture of himself with Walker from earlier.
Ed Higgins, from New Hanover County, said he hopes Walker becomes the Republican nominee.
“Governorships better prepare individuals for the hard decisions presidents make, unlike being a senator,” Higgins said. “He stands up to unions and takes the hard fight to them, but at the same time he carries the favor of his constituents, as shown when he was re-elected after they recalled him.”
An expected 1,800 to 2,000 Republicans from around the state traveled to the capital to hear the N.C. GOP’s speakers.
Saturday will feature U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and a few Tar Heel speakers including Gov. Pat McCrory, Forest, House Speaker Tim Moore, Sen. Thom Tillis and Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry.
The convention will wrap up Sunday morning with a prayer breakfast and Dr. Ben Carson.
Carson and Cruz are officially running for president in 2016, and Walker is widely expected to run as well. Recent media reports suggest Trump may enter the crowded field for the GOP nomination.
The N.C. GOP will also elect new state-level leadership, which occurs every odd year. The party will vote in a new state chairman who will represent the state at the Republican National Convention.
At the state convention, candidates are nominated and voted on by county delegates, which will take place after the 2 p.m. speakers Saturday. The three candidates who ran campaigns for state chairman are Craig Collins, AJ Daoud and Hasan Harnett.