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Scott Walker Blew His Last Chance: The Debate

Heading into the Republican debate Wednesday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s presidential campaign was teetering. As the Washington Examiner put it in one headline, “Wisconsin pundits: Walker needs debate of his life.” I’m not sure I would have agreed with those pundits, but it appears the Walker campaign did: Walker didn’t deliver in the debate, and now he’s out.

Walker’s performance in the varsity debate wasn’t just mediocre: He rated dead last, according to post-debate polls. In an average of four surveys — taken by CNN, Morning Consult, SurveyMonkey and YouGov — only 0.5 percent of Republican debate-watchers crowned Walker as the debate’s winner.

Carly Fiorina 52% 29% 36% 43% 40.0%
Donald Trump 11 24 21 10 16.5
Marco Rubio 14 6 8 14 10.5
Ben Carson 3 7 7 6 5.8
Jeb Bush 2 6 7 5 5.0
Ted Cruz 3 3 4 7 4.3
Chris Christie 6 5 4 1 4.0
Mike Huckabee 1 3 1 1 1.5
John Kasich 2 3 0 1 1.5
Rand Paul 2 2 1 0 1.3
Scott Walker 0 1 1 0 0.5

In Walker’s defense, he didn’t exactly get the chance to fight for his political life in the CNN debate; the moderators barely paid him any attention, asking him just three direct questions (tied with Mike Huckabee for the fewest).

Who had the most speaking opportunities?

Perhaps sensing that he needed to stand out, Walker interrupted the other candidates more times (five) than any of the other candidates on stage, except for Carly Fiorina (six interruptions). In the end, though, it wasn’t enough. He ended up speaking for less time (eight minutes) than anybody else.

Why was the CNN debate so crucial for Walker?

His support and money had both dried up. He reportedly was in danger of going into debt to keep paying the bills, and he had been in a long-term polling decline … everywhere. In fact, his polling, both nationally and in the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire, had dropped to record lows for 2015.


Among the debate-watchers, no doubt, were political donors. A good debate may have helped refill Walker’s coffers, which could have bought some television ads, which could have rekindled his popular support.

Alas, it was not to be.

Walker will return to Wisconsin after just 70 days on the campaign trail. As The Week put it: That’s shorter than the amount of time Kim Kardashian was married to Kris Humphries.

Check out all of our 2016 election coverage.

Dhrumil Mehta and Leah Libresco contributed research to this article.

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.