MIDDLETON, Wis. ― Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a potential 2016 Republican candidate for president who lacks a college degree, said Wednesday he would like to complete his course work to get his diploma, but he dodged a question about whether it was necessary to run for higher office.
Walker, who was first elected as governor in 2010 and faces re-election this fall, left Marquette University in 1990 when he was 34 credit hours short of completing his degree. He studied political science, economics and philosophy.
Walker took a job at the local chapter of the American Red Cross in February 1990 before dropping out of school three months later. Walker has said he thought about finishing his degree, but after getting married in 1993 and having a son in 1994, that was no longer an option.
Almost immediately after dropping out of Marquette, Walker ran for the state Assembly and lost in November 1990. The next time he ran, in 1993, Walker won a special election and went on to serve nine years in the Assembly before being elected Milwaukee County executive in 2002 and then governor eight years later.
“I don’t think I needed a college degree to be in the state Assembly, to be county executive nor to be governor,” Walker said when asked whether he needed a degree to run for president. “I don’t know about any other position.”
Walker hasn’t said yet whether he will seek the Republican nomination for president, saying he’s focused solely on his re-election efforts this fall. Walker faces Democrat Mary Burke, a Harvard Business School graduate who is a former state commerce secretary and Trek Bicycle Corp. executive.
Not having a college degree hasn’t been a major issue in Walker’s previous races, but as he takes the steps that typically precede a presidential run, including the publication of a book last fall, appearances at national fundraisers and other GOP events, questions about it have been trailing him. He was asked about it again Wednesday after speaking to third and fourth grade students at their school about the functions of government.
“In the end I think most people, for example governor, judge me based on performance and what we’re able to do,” Walker told reporters.
The lack of a college education has also come up in Georgia’s hotly contested Senate race.
David Perdue, a top candidate in a crowded GOP field, noted Republican hopeful Karen Handel’s lack of a degree during remarks captured on video, prompting Sarah Palin, the 2008 vice presidential nominee, to leap to Handel’s defense.
In the footage, Purdue, a former Dollar General CEO, discusses the economy and the federal deficit and notes Handel’s lack of a college degree. “There’s a high school graduate in this race, OK?” he says. “I’m sorry, but these issues are so much broader, so complex.”
Handel, a former secretary of state, has said she left an abusive home as a teen and has used a message of overcoming obstacles as a key element of her campaigns. “She pulled herself up. Nothing was handed to her on a platter, fed to her on a silver spoonl” Palin said last Thursday while speaking at a campaign event in Georgia.
Walker told reporters Wednesday that, if he were to get his degree, it wouldn’t be to fill any requirement for political office but to encourage others to take similar action.
“I just think it would be a good thing,” Walker said.