David Walker is a national candidate – who swears he won’t run

Jon Ward Contributor
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He sounds like a national candidate, maybe even for president.

“A great nation does not stay great by being a debtor nation,” he said this week. “We are a critical crossroads in the history of the United States.”

He’s traveled through 46 states in the last four years. He’s on a book tour. And he’s an eloquent and passionate advocate on the issue of the day: America’s entitlement problem.

So is David Walker preparing to run for office? The question is not as ridiculous as it sounds. Mention the prospect to Washington taste makers and experienced political hands, and their faces acquire a passive expression, neither rejecting not accepting the proposition but swishing it around like a mouthful of sub-par wine.

Walker is the country’s former comptroller general, certainly not the position from which many political stars have risen. He does not have a political profile or base.

But over the past few years, he has increased his name recognition and become at least more visible than he ever was before.

While he was comptroller general, in September 2005 he began traveling around the country to give speeches to town hall meetings as part of what he called “the Fiscal WakeUp Tour.” That tour became one of the storylines for the documentary “I.O.U.S.A.”

In 2008, he became president and chief executive of the Peterson Foundation, which was created to raise awareness about the country’s unfunded mandates. Walker has taken to the task with relish, talking to anyone who will listen about the icebergs of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security that threaten to sink the ship of state.

In the process, he has gained a fair amount of publicity, appearing regularly on the news and on programs such as “60 Minutes” and “Charlie Rose.”

Walker, who is tall and bespectacled but still has the unfortunate habit of dressing like a Wall Street banker, has polished what could be an impressive stump speech.

“There are some very simple principles,” he told an audience of a few hundred this week. “Habitually spending more money than you make is irresponsible. Irresponsibly spending somebody else’s money is unethical, and if you’re a fiduciary, a fiduciary breach. And thirdly, irresponsibly spending somebody else’s money — when the person whose money you’re spending are too young to vote and not born yet — is immoral.”

“And all three of these things are going on right now.”

It’s the type of sound bite that would draw a loud cheer from a Tea Party rally and could be used by a third party candidate, a prospect that has gained currency this week.

Robert Bixby, who as executive director of The Concord Coalition traveled around the country with Walker for the “Fiscal WakeUp” tour, said Walker never once mentioned the idea of running for office in all his time with him.

But, Bixby said, “he is unquestionably an articulate speaker on the subject that I think speaks to people beyond a partisan agenda.”

“It’s in keeping with the mood of the times. I can imagine that being a powerful message,” he said.

Walker swore in an interview that he has no electoral ambitions.

“I’ve had a number of people who encouraged me over the years to run for office, a lot of different offices. So while I think I could do well at it, I’m sincere in saying that I don’t have any plans to run for office now or in the future,” Walker said. “You’re never going to say never. But I don’t expect that I ever will run for office at this point in time.”

The lack of name recognition is an issue. There are, for example, 24 entries on Wikipedia for “David Walker.”

Still, that has not stopped the speculation. One well-placed Republican political and economic adviser surmised that Walker’s recent move to Connecticut signals a run for the Senate seat there being vacated by Sen. Chris Dodd, Democrat.

“The plan all along has been to run for office. He used his time to GAO to commission the research and collect the data, he did the fiscal wake up tour and he has carefully positioned himself as a centrist,” said the Republican, who has held senior positions with one of the party’s top presidential candidates.

“Its not clear which party he’ll run with. But he’s strategically placed himself in a position of expertise on the issues that matter most to Americans. Now it’s all about raising his name recognition.”

Walker denied this rumor, and Walker’s name did not ring any bells with Republicans in Connecticut or with grassroots activists.

Jon Henke, a conservative new media and political adviser, on Thursday flagged Walker as a potential running mate for the Republican nominee in 2012.

“David Walker has been warning about the looming fiscal crisis for years now, so he is ahead of the issue that is driving U.S. politics for the foreseeable future,” Henke wrote at The Next Right

“He has worked across ideological and party lines, so he has independent credibility. He has real ideas for how to address the problem. He has traveled to 46 states selling the message. I smell an incredibly compelling vice-presidential pick,” Henke said.

Walker’s careful nonpartisanship over the past several years, however, led a few conservatives to dismiss him as a political entity. One said he has “the profile of a national nag.”

Another Republican cited Walker’s lack of fundraising and organizational base.

“You have to have a home,” he said.

What makes the Tea Party movement unique is that its members eschew traditional Washington politics, including establishment-anointed leaders.

“This is an insurgency. It’s coast to coast. It’s organic. It’s been organic. It’s from the bottom up. It’s not from the top down. We have resisted leaders,” said Bob MacGuffie, a libertarian Tea Party organizer in Connecticut.

“The insurgency is going on by local people in their districts pushing up. What happens to the leadership will happen.”

Here is the 2007 “60 Minutes” segment on Walker that compared him to an Old Testament prophet: