ABC The Drum

While the race to the White House in 2016 is not officially underway, plenty of potential starters are in the mounting yard and heading for the barriers. Among them, a dark horse from the heartland who may have what it takes to claim the Republican Party nomination, and just possibly the Presidency.

At 47, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin is aiming to become the first "Gen-X" President of the United States. His record in four years as a mid-western governor stands up well against potential Republican rivals like former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Texas Governor Rick Perry and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Walker came to office in 2011 on a conservative wave which showed early voter disenchantment with the pace of America's economic recovery under Democrat President Barack Obama. Governor Walker declared the Badger State "open for business" (sound familiar?) and vowed to balance the state budget and fix the economy without raising taxes — in fact he would cut them. His first move was to take on the state's powerful labour unions over collective bargaining rights and effectively force public servants, including teachers, to pay more for their health insurance and pension funds.

Angry protests erupted within days — 100,000 state employees and their supporters gathering in the capital Madison, out of a total state population of just 5.7 million. The protests become an occupation and national news, and more than million signatures were added to the petition to force an early election by "recalling" Walker. But the Governor managed to outspend his Democrat opponent 10-1 to win a renewed mandate in June 2012. He was comfortably re-elected in November last year, providing the platform for his higher ambitions.

To many conservatives, Scott Walker is now a hero; a union-busting, tax-cutting, budget-balancing pin-up. His policies have become an example to Republicans around the nation, who as well as claiming a majority in both houses of congress in Washington DC, now hold 31 governorships around the nation.

But could Walker's brand of small-government austerity be the prescription for all America?

An increasing number of media pundits and influential political donors think so.

The influential Drudge Report website published a poll this week which put Walker more than 30% in front of all other potential Republican Presidential candidates, including Tea Party favourites, Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, and the higher-profile Governors Bush and Christie. The Howard Beale-like American shock jock Glenn Beck dubbed it "the most accurate poll of Republicans I've seen so far".

More importantly (and scientifically) a poll by the Des Moines Register has Walker jumping to the front of potential Republican candidates in the crucial first-to-vote state of Iowa. Iowa has a long history of vaulting long-shots into the top tier of Presidential campaigns, and was the making of then-Senator Barack Obama's upset win over Hillary Clinton in the contest to become the Democratic nominee in 2008.

But if topping an early poll in Iowa was a sure-fire indicator of ultimate success, we'd have been talking about President Newt Gingrich, President Michele Bachmann or President Herman Cain for the past two years.

But Governor Walker has some advantages as his campaign picks up steam in the next few months. As well as a record of largely doing what he said he'd do in Wisconsin (contrasting the gridlock in Washington DC which is all any Senate-based candidates can claim to have achieved) he comes from a state which borders Iowa. Indeed Walker spent some years growing up in Iowa as the son of a Baptist minster — something which is already playing well with the evangelical Christian base in the Hawkeye state.

Counting against Walker is a reputation for being a little dull. He's no great speechifyer, although he managed to fire up the conservative crowd at a recent Iowa "Freedom" Summit hosted by anti-immigration congressman Steve King.

More conservative than Chris Christie and Jeb Bush, and less flaky than Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, Scott Walker has an obvious opening in the Republican field, if not a rails-run. He is a fresh face with a proven track record. A generation younger than the likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, growing numbers think Scott Walker may go all the way to the White House.

This article was originally published at ABC The Drum