One Reason Scott Walker Was Elected Governor

Posted December 9th, 2010 in Campaigns, Communications, Government, Media Relations, Public Relations and tagged , , by Jeff Bentoff

Strong media skills often sit high atop the list of why a political candidate succeeds. I was reminded of that watching Governor-Elect Scott Walker’s masterful performance as guest speaker at a Milwaukee Press Club luncheon this week.

The room was packed, sold out, with every media organization in town crammed in the tiny space, with a panel of three solid journalists and a sharp audience pitching him questions.

Yet in the face of this media scrum, Walker exhibited preparation, confidence, a human touch, a plan to make news, non-defensiveness about the questions and clear, repeated but natural delivery of messages.

Later, I had no problem recalling his two key messages. First, he said he’ll solve the budget deficit while pursuing all options – except by raising taxes. Second, his priorities once in office will be helping Wisconsin companies create jobs and trying to attract companies outside the state to Wisconsin to create jobs. He also made it clear by repetition what the news story would be from the event – that state union workers were going to help solve the budget crisis by some sort of cutbacks.

Whether you agree with his positions or not, he got them across to the media, and the public.

During the event, I didn’t see what some new to power (or in this case, higher office) often show the media once they get there – hubris, arrogance, ego, annoyance, impatience, prickliness, unpreparedness, anger. Such attitudes turn media against you.

Scott Walker just won a campaign by a reasonable margin, yet a few weeks later, he’s acting as if he’s still campaigning, at least with his media discipline. Whether he’s focused on media at all times, or whether he actually is campaigning for higher office, I can’t say.

While over the years, I’ve seen Walker speak and talked with him, I’d never observed him in a media event before this one. So after the luncheon, I checked with one of the panelists, ace Journal Sentinel reporter Lee Bergquist, a former colleague at the Milwaukee Sentinel, to see if my instincts were right about Walker being so good with media. Berquist, who covered the recent gubernatorial election, said they were.

“He’s a master communicator,” Bergquist answered, without hesitation.

“He’s very good at communicating. He’s great to work with, even in an adversarial relationship, between a reporter and a politician, because he knows what you need.”

Bergquist agreed that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Walker’s gubernatorial opponent, also was effective with media. “Walker just really excels,” Bergquist said.

Bergquist reminded me of a Q&A he conducted with Walker during the campaign that shows Walker’s interest in communications:

Q. If you weren’t in politics, what would you like to do?

A. Ride my Harley all day. My wife and I have talked about it and I don’t know what I would do. Maybe something in communications. Maybe I would host a radio or TV show.

Walker’s media skills didn’t make or break the election, but they sure didn’t hurt. It’s too soon to say how his skills will serve him as governor, when he’ll face more media pressure than ever, but I wouldn’t bet against them.


In 2012, two years after I wrote the above blog post, I had the opportunity to write an article for Delta airline’s “Sky” magazine on Wisconsin’s economy. Gov. Walker was among the many people I interviewed. Seeing him as a reporter for the first time, I agree with Lee Bergquist’s assessment above. Walker was one of the best interviews I conducted for the story if not the best. When we spoke on the phone, he was friendly, engaged, prepared and very quotable. Made my job easy.

Leave a Reply