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GOP 2016 Debate

Republican presidential candidate Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate Wednesday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif.

MADISON — Scott Walker has downshifted his initially ambitious campaign for president to focus on first-to-vote Iowa, scrambling Thursday to reassure jittery donors and supporters after a quiet performance in the second Republican debate.

Walker spoke less than anyone else during a three-hour marathon in which he was asked only two direct questions. While Walker's campaign manager said on Twitter it was "ridiculous" how little attention his boss got from the debate's moderators, Walker said afterward it was time to adjust his strategy to win the Republican nomination.

"We're putting all our eggs in the basket of Iowa," he told MSNBC.

But first, Walker needs to settle donors hedging their bets on the Wisconsin governor. Among them is billionaire media mogul Stanley Hubbard, who said Thursday that while he still supports Walker, he's going to also start giving money to Carly Fiorina, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie.

"For some reason, the people I'm close to, they aren't getting excited about him," said Hubbard, who gave $100,000 to two pro-Walker groups earlier this year. "And I don't know why. He's saying the right things."

The turnabout comes a few days after Walker, seeking to spark a campaign that has lagged in polls and fundraising after a fast start, unveiled a sweeping proposal to reshape organized labor in the United States. Designed to be a dramatic moment on Walker's signature issue, he wasn't asked about it during Wednesday's debate and he didn't bring it up on his own.

Walker and campaign manager Rick Wiley told donors on a conference call Thursday afternoon that he retains key strengths in Iowa. His favorability ratings in a recent statewide poll were higher than nearly anyone else, and he has campaign leaders in each of the state's 99 counties, a level of organization that should pay off in the February caucuses.

Walker returns to the state this weekend for a speech at an Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition dinner in Des Moines on Saturday night, followed by a full day of campaigning Sunday.

"The biggest thing for us is getting back to the basics, getting into Iowa and the early states," Walker told MSNBC after the debate.

One of Walker's top fundraisers, Chicago Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts, praised Wiley during the conference call in an effort to quell grumbles from some donors that the campaign needs a change.

Some of the campaign's top donors and fundraisers have expressed worry in recent weeks, as Walker's poll numbers have slipped, that he'll close out his first three months of fundraising without having raised enough to run a competitive campaign. Walker joined the call Thursday to personally plead for money.

Nervous campaign vendors are currently waiting to be paid more than $100,000 for outstanding debts, according to a person at one of the firms who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The person was not authorized to speak publicly about the firm's financial relationship to Walker's campaign.

The person said there is widespread recognition that Walker built a large and expensive campaign infrastructure when fundraising appeared strong earlier in the year. That is leading to fears among Walker's creditors that he could become this cycle's Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor who left the 2012 presidential race deep in debt months before the first votes were cast.

In addition to Thursday's 30-minute conference call, Walker courted donors directly in California. He has a series of fundraisers planned, including next week in New York City and later this month in his home state.

Walker still benefits from two outside groups that can raise unlimited amounts of money from donors, and they reported amassing $26 million in the first six months of the year, before Walker made his candidacy official.

But like Hubbard, some of Walker's biggest financial supporters have spread their largesse from the start, an indication that they're not committed to him for the long haul.

Robert McNair, the billionaire owner of the Houston Texans, gave $500,000 to a pro-Walker super PAC — and the same amount to groups backing Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham. Chicago billionaire hedge-fund manager Ken Griffin cut $100,000 checks this spring to Walker, Rubio and Bush.

That's a smart strategy for donors, Hubbard said Thursday.

"I'm not going to turn my back on Walker," he said. "I'm still continuing to back him. ... But I think it's good to have a robust team."

Walker still has a path to victory in Iowa, but interest has moved away from him and toward Fiorina, Donald Trump and Ben Carson, said Will Rogers, chairman of the Republican Party in Iowa's Polk County.

"I don't think people disqualify Scott Walker. I think they still look at him and respect him. I think that at the same time, the attention has really shifted from someone like Scott Walker, it has really shined on (Donald) Trump," Rogers said.

But Roger Pilc, a Connecticut technology executive involved in an upcoming New York fundraiser for Walker, said he expects interest in the governor to increase as other candidates fade away.

"He'll rise back up," Pilc predicted, "as he shows that he is an outsider to Washington, but one who has a record of getting things done."

Bykowicz reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Steve Peoples in Simi Valley, Calif., and Catherine Lucey in Des Moines contributed to this report.

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Local news editor

(9) comments

Clarification

Walker should stay in the race all the way to the convention. This will keep himaway from doing any more damage to Wisconsin.

Buggs Raplin

It's all over Scooter; the fat lady has sung; you're now just an also-ran like all the GOP candidates, save Bush and Fiorina, and Trump. You're now relegated from a leading candidate to a nobody, and like Tommy Thompson previously, are betting all your marbles on Iowa. Message to Scooter's campaign: I bet you're all working overtime to somehow portray Scooter's failure (from such lofty heights) into a positive. Good luck with that.

oldhomey

If he is, indeed, putting all his eggs in the Iowa basket in a desperate effort to ramp up his candidacy, he will be back in Wisconsin early next year with his tail between his legs. He has already lost it, and when he comes in fifth or sixth with three or four percent of the vote in the state that abuts his own, even Walker will have to read the handwriting on the wall as donor money dries up for good. I wonder, however, if he will be dangerous once he comes home to govern, stooping to nastiness to strike back at his perceived enemies like Nixon did. Oh well, only a couple years left of him in the State House, and he will be out of politics for good. No telling how he'll make his living after that. Perhaps as a political fund-raising consultant advising GOP candidates on proper kneepads to use while approaching the Koch brothers and other billionaires for their hand-outs.

Teddy Cruz

I'm pretty sure Fox News will give him a chance. And he will get a nice contract. And he will move out of Wisconsin, the Land of 100,000 Lakes. He is more of a steak and potatoe guy. Wisconsin is where fish comes from.

lookout

The only trouble Scott Walker has now is the people of the country know who and what Walkers like. They know what and how he did his work in the state of Wisconsin and people hate that way any politicians does business the way Walker did. They found that he's a liar and a con man with no really way to govern anything other than to use attack style politics to get his way

ThomasPaineJefferson

Note how he's pandering to and trying to please "donors"......not citizens, or voters.....just the "donors". Buh-bye Walker....time to ride off in the sunset on your union made Harley

JimB

Howdy Doody (with the painted-on grin has been sipping at the Koch machine too long. It has skewered his prospective. He has proven to Americans just what an imbecile he truly is. He is incapable of making ANY decisions. He changes tunes more often than a jukebox in a crowded bar on a Saturday night. Any reference to "his ideas is a complete misnomer. The "ideas" are coming from the ReThugniCon think tank (An oxymoron in itself). Not only should he not be allowed to run for ANY public office, but he should not be allowed to run in public. He proposes a danger to society of infecting good normal human beings with his disease (delusions of grandeur) He should instead be quarantined in a place with rooms that have rubber walls where nice young men in clean white coats can help him rid himself of his disease.

Asiseeit

hey donors, it's time to give up on this guy, he's done! don't throw your money away!

sylvester

With Our crumbling roads in Wisconsin the Iowa roads are surely better to ride on.

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