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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker surges to top of GOP 2016 list

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Politics,Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Republican Party,Wisconsin,Scott Walker,Larry Sabato

He doesn't get the attention of the Sunday talk shows, or Washington's political elite, but the Midwest's dragon slayer, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, is emerging in some Republican circles as the surprising favorite to win the GOP nomination for president in 2016.

Untainted by scandal, far from Washington's voter-frustrating gridlock, and reinvigorated by his victory over foes who staged a recall vote, the conservative Walker is also viewed as the best candidate to sop up the Midwest white vote which, had Mitt Romney done better there, would have catapulted him into the Oval Office.

But the best part in the eyes of the University of Virginia's Larry Sabato: "If Walker were to become the Republican presidential nominee, Democrats will have helped it happen." That's because they drove the recent losing recall effort out of anger Walker was cracking down on public unions.

Sabato, who in his first 2016 analysis last week said that only Hillary Clinton is in the Democratic top tier, on Thursday said that while Walker is joined in the GOP "first tier" by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the midwesterner stands above because he beat back Democrats in the recall and because he can win the Midwest.

But more importantly, Sabato added, Walker could reach whites who didn't turn out in huge numbers for Romney who won 59 percent of the white vote in his defeat. "The GOP nominee will need to squeeze even more votes out of the nation's white presidential electorate," said Sabato and his analysis team of Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley.

The trio said Rubio and Christie have some problems that could stall their advance. Rubio, they noted, will have to make controversial votes in the Senate over the next three years and Christie may be considered too moderates.

The other tiers:

Second Tier

-- Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

-- Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Third Their

-- Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

-- Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.

-- Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Wild Card

-- Ohio Gov. John Kasich.