Cookies in the shapes of elephants and Wisconsin decorated a serving platter.
Colored caps declaring “Make America Great Again” were on sale, as were copies of the book “Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge,” written by the keynote speaker of the Jefferson County GOP “Pints and Politics” event on Thursday.
Addressing the group at the Bennett Barn, a wedding venue off of County Highway Q outside Watertown, was former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. And it was clear that even after leaving office, he still knew how to draw a crowd.
Clad in jeans and a University of Wisconsin dress shirt with the sleeves rolled past his elbows, Walker had eyes on him from the minute he entered the farmhouse door. Murmurs filled the small groups of Republicans at the front of the barn, some talking about Walker’s former policies and others about how to approach him. Walker smiled and offered his hand as people slowly made their way to him to chat and pose for photos.
Anita Bennett, the 53-year-old from Watertown who owns the barn, gingerly approached Walker, a copy of “Unintimidated” in hand. After some small talk, she asked for the former governor’s autograph and he happily obliged, which had Bennett smiling cheek to cheek.
Jefferson County GOP Chairman Jim Braughler has been to the other Pints and Politics events, but he understood the significance of having the former state leader attend. Although the group had gotten the word out over Facebook and through some local newspapers, the number of projected attendees was unknown.
“I have no idea how many will come,” Braughler said in advance.
By the time Walker arrived, the Bennett Barn was packed. Even though he is now out of office, Walker still holds a significant spot in these Republicans’ hearts.
“He’s still pretty important to us. He represents us well,” Braughler said. “We hope to see him out and about.”
After a few minutes of rubbing elbows, Walker made his way to the stage, which was lit up with the fluorescent glow of white Christmas lights and lined with bunting and American flags. The crowd recited the Pledge of Allegiance, were led in prayer and heard remarks by Kevin Nicholson, a former Marine and now president of the No Better Friend Corp., a group that promotes conservative public policy.
The 75 to 100 people roared to life when Walker was introduced. At one point, Walker discussed Democratic U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her praise of the millennial generation. He said he disagreed with her, as the greatest generation is the one that won World War II.
Walker began his talk with a discussion on the national economic landscape. He said he was focused on the national economic and fiscal crisis and talked about his desire to push for a national balanced budget.
He also discussed his new presidency, not of the country, but of the Young American Foundation, an outreach organization dedicated to introducing the American youth to conservative principles. One of the goals Walker has for the party is to be able to reach the younger group of Americans.
Walker, who mentioned he was the Wisconsin chairman for President Trump’s re-election campaign, urged the crowd to go to the polls next November for the 2020 presidential election. He told the crowd the president would not win a second term without Wisconsin.
“It’s going to be so critically important.” Walker said of Wisconsin voter turnout. “We really need people in the state talking to their neighbors, knocking on doors, making phone calls. That will be the difference maker.”
Walker concluded his speech with a message to audience members.
“Win Wisconsin and carry on for America. Thank you and God bless.”
A standing ovation followed.
“(My) goal for the party is to get the message out, particularly to young people,” Walker said after the speech.
He said his future plans include many other different efforts to go alongside his new role.
“Nationally, I’m involved with the balanced budget amendment, involved in the fair redistricting process,” Walker said. “And we’re going to help the president get re-elected, so a lot of different duties.”
Once clear of the crowd, Walker received a rootbeer float from Bennett. While scooping some vanilla ice cream from his cup, Walker complimented the job done by both the Jefferson County GOP and the host.
“It was a lot of fun. I get to see a great crowd like this on a Thursday in the summer; for me, (it brings) a lot of good feelings,” Walker said. “I just love seeing a lot of folks who helped us out throughout the years, good grassroots activists, and to be in this beautiful barn. This is a spectacular barn and it’s kind of cool to see.”
Nearby, Anita Bennett was smiling from cheek to cheek.