2016 updates: Scott Walker 'punts' on evolution

By Anthony Zurcher
BBC News, Washington

image copyrightAP
image captionWisconsin Governor Scott Walker is caught off guard by evolution question

It has been just over 100 days since the 2014 US mid-term elections wrapped up with sweeping conservative victories.

Thirty-eight days ago, the new Republican Congress was sworn in, and two weeks later President Barack Obama addressed the body with his State of the Union address.

Politically speaking, that's all ancient history. From here on out, the focus will irresistibly shift toward the 2016 presidential campaign.

Here are a few of the more notable events this week in the campaign for the White House.

Walking tall

This week's campaign headlines were dominated by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, the would-be Republican frontrunner who is concluding the seemingly obligatory trip to the UK to burnish his foreign policy credentials.

On Tuesday I wrote a piece about the Wisconsin governor and why his recent surge in polls conducted in influential early-voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire may signify more than just the usual flash-in-the-pan for little-known candidates.

I included a note of caution, however, that Mr Walker would be facing intensified media interest in his every step and possible stumble.

Cue a stumble. BBC presenter Justin Webb asked Mr Walker about his views on evolution following a speech at Chatham House. His response: "I'm going to punt on that one", adding that he thinks it is a question politicians "shouldn't be involved in one way or another".

That may be true, but it's definitely a question reporters love to ask, if only to watch Republican candidates squirm as they try to avoid angering the evangelical Christian voters in their party's base, many of whom believe creationism - or intelligent design - should be taught in public schools.

"Remarkably, for a man who has run for high office, Walker didn't have a ready-to-repeat answer on evolution," writes Byron York of the Washington Examiner. He adds that Mr Walker's staff didn't even know the governor's official position as they scrambled to respond to a flood of media inquiries.

Given that another presidential hopeful, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, got into an even bigger mess while in the UK when he endorsed "parental choice" in the measles vaccination debate, maybe it's time to rethink the British Isles as a safe trip for prospective candidates.

Would a destination where no-one speaks English be better advised from now on?

Technical difficulties

While Mr Walker had a good week, despite his run-in with Charles Darwin, another would-be frontrunner made headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Florida Governor Jeb Bush, when he announced he was exploring a presidential bid, touted the openness of his operation as he released a trove of documents relating to his time in office. It turns out that included in this bounty were some rather embarrassing personal details - such as correspondents' Social Security numbers and email addresses - that diligent reporters and social media sleuths unearthed and publicised. Mr Bush's aides then had to quickly redact numerous pages.

A good technology chief might have been able to devise a system to filter out such unwanted information. Mr Bush doesn't have a good chief of technology, however. In fact he doesn't have any chief of technology after he had to fire the one he recently hired, Ethan Czahor, when it was revealed that Czahor had a history of making misogynistic, racist and homophobic comments on social media.

In 2008 and again in 2012, the Obama campaign built a reputation for using technological savvy to run highly effective micro-targeted campaigns that increased voter outreach and election day turnout. Mitt Romney's efforts, codenamed Project Orca, ended up being a much criticised flop.

Republican officials spent a great deal of time after 2012 trying to improve what they saw as a technological gap between the two parties. With their 2014 mid-term success, they thought they had made marked progress.

Mr Bush's stumbles this week might be cause for renewed concern if he becomes the nominee.

Room for more?

It's time to consider adding Ohio Governor John Kasich to the list of Republican candidates seriously considering a presidential bid. As the Washington Post reports, Mr Kasich has announced he's going to be travelling to South Carolina next week for a speaking engagement.

While the Palmetto State is a lovely place to visit, the warm Southern climes are probably of less interest to the Midwestern governor and former congressman than its position as the third state to vote in the Republican presidential nominating process.

Mr Kasich's name has been kicked around in the past as a potentially compelling candidate, mostly because he's a popular governor in a key swing state. No Republican has won the presidency without carrying Ohio. Ever.

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