CONCORD, N.H. (Reuters) - Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker brought his message of limited government to New Hampshire on Saturday in his first visit to the state as a prospective Republican Party presidential candidate in 2016.
Walker made his appearance in New Hampshire, a launching pad for presidential election campaigns because its primary is the first in the country, a week after signing a so-called “right-to-work” bill. The law prevents labor unions in Wisconsin from forcing workers to pay dues, but opponents contend its underlying goal is to undermine organized labor.
Walker has embraced the issue of limiting the power of unions as his signature cause, making him the target of a failed recall campaign three years ago.
Before Walker’s speech at Concord High School, union members protested outside, holding signs that said, “Stop the war on workers,” and “Scott Walker: stop trashing the middle class.”
Speaking in a full auditorium, Walker said he would not be cowed by those who disagreed with him.
“They seek to intimidate,” Walker said. “But we never lost focus. We did what we had to do, and that’s what’s needed in America today.”
The “right-to-work” issue has been contentious in New Hampshire. Legislators have sponsored several bills to make union membership optional, but the legislation failed to clear both chambers and would have faced certain vetoes by Democratic governors.
Walker joins a field of prospective Republican presidential candidates who have made tracks to New Hampshire in recent weeks.
Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and brother and son of former presidents, this weekend also made his first trip to the state since he announced he was seriously weighing a 2016 bid.
In his speech, Walker called for more state and local control over education, a position that distinguished him from Bush, who has backed the controversial Common Core national standards.
Walker also called for a stronger U.S. foreign policy, calling “radical Islamic terrorism” the greatest security threat facing the United States.
Walker also took aim at Democratic President Barack Obama and polices he said measured success based on how many people were dependent on the government.
“We should measure success on just the opposite, on how many are not dependent on the government,” Walker said.
Maurice Tandy, 81, a resident of the nearby town of Franklin, said Walker’s message resonated with him. “He wants to bring government closer to the people, back to the towns and cities.”
Editing By Frank McGurty and Grant McCool