By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker just got what may be the biggest political boost of his career, and it couldn’t have come at a much better time.
President Donald Trump’s announcement Wednesday that Wisconsin had won the high-stakes fight to be home to Foxconn’s first U.S. manufacturing plant — a $10 billion investment that could mean 3,000 jobs or more for the state — comes as Walker is preparing to run for a third term.
It not only gives Walker’s job-creation credentials a jolt but also allows him to further distance himself from his biggest failure — not fulfilling his 2010 campaign promise to create 250,000 jobs in four years.
“Walk-off grand slam home run,” said Brandon Scholz, a longtime Republican operative in Wisconsin and former state party director. He called the Foxconn news the pinnacle of Walker’s time as governor and a fulfillment of what he’s been promising to do.
“It’s going to be tough for any of his prospective opponents to criticize him for not doing the things he’s supposed to do as governor, for not improving the Wisconsin economy,” Scholz said. “The one word response will be: Foxconn.”
Walker stormed into office in 2010 declaring that Wisconsin was “Open for Business,” but after more than six years he has yet to fulfill his original job-creation promise.
Walker has been struggling to rebuild goodwill in Wisconsin after his failed presidential run. His approval ratings hit a low point at 37 percent just as he ended his presidential campaign in September 2015. His ratings have slowly grown back to 48 percent, the same as at this point in 2013 before he ran for a second term in 2014.
Walker’s economic record has long been a sore spot, and even then-candidate Trump blasted Walker about it when they were both running for president in 2016.
“He’s not doing a great job,” Trump said of Walker in 2016. “But your governor has convinced you (Wisconsin) doesn’t have problems.”
Those criticisms were long forgotten as Trump and Walker stood triumphantly together in the White House on Wednesday for the Foxconn announcement.
Walker was able to land the deal with the Taiwanese manufacturing giant thanks in large part to Wisconsin’s deep connections with the White House. House Speaker Paul Ryan, whose congressional district will be home to the plant, worked closely with Trump and Walker on the deal. So too did White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, a Kenosha native who said he talked up the potential of southeast Wisconsin to Trump for the plant.
Foxconn’s promise to hire 3,000 people — and maybe as many as 13,000 eventually — will give Walker something to run on that Democrats will have a hard time deflecting.
Walker pitched the Foxconn news as good for everyone in Wisconsin.
“All of us in the state should be smiling, Republican and Democrat, doesn’t matter,” Walker said Thursday on WTMJ-AM.
“In politics there are ups and downs,” said Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, who represents a part of the state near where the plant would be built.
“Obviously this would be a plus for him and the entire state, potentially,” Barca said. “But one deal does not make an administration. I don’t think he could point to one deal and say this is what he has accomplished in seven or eight years of governing.”
Even longtime Democratic critics had a hard time saying anything bad about the deal.
“Ten thousand good-paying, family sustaining jobs for Wisconsin is a great thing for our state — period,” said Milwaukee businessman Andy Gronik, who is challenging Walker next year. “This should not be a partisan issue.”
But Gronik and other Democrats called for transparency in the deal cut by the state.
Democratic state Sen. Chris Larson said Walker has “left a trail of broken promises” and that voters shouldn’t be convinced the jobs will come.
Scholz, the Republican strategist, said Walker critics will have a hard time making their case when it comes to Foxconn.
“For those that want to naysay this project, let them go ahead,” Scholz said, “because they’re on the outside looking in.”