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Walker- JEsus Calling

Gov. Scott Walker reads from "Jesus Calling" at the Faith & Freedom Coalition spring summit in Waukee, Iowa. PHOTO BY JESSIE OPOIEN

WAUKEE, Iowa — When Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker took the stage at 9:30 p.m. Saturday night, the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition's spring summit was an hour behind schedule. 

He promised the crowd of more than 1,000 at the evangelical Point of Grace Church he would keep his remarks brief so everyone could get home, get to bed and get up for church in the morning. He'd be doing just that, he added, back home in Wauwatosa. 

Wearing a suit — with no mention of whether it was from Kohl's — and pacing the stage, Walker was at ease, peppering a few new elements into a stump speech he's given throughout the country as he considers a presidential bid. In his voice, the wear of two days' worth of events across the state could be heard, but his speech drew cheers, stomps and applause.

Just before he took the stage, Walker told reporters he's holding out hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will rule that states can bar same-sex marriages. But if that's not the case, he suggested that voters should seek a constitutional amendment to allow state-level bans.

"I think the appropriate route is for people across America who care deeply about this issue to pursue a constitutional amendment allowing the states to determine what the definition is," Walker told reporters.

When the Supreme Court declined to hear Wisconsin's case last fall, Walker said, "For us, it's over in Wisconsin." But his comments on Saturday indicated he's not ready to walk away from the fight.

He made no mention of a constitutional amendment in his speech, but reaffirmed his belief that marriage "is between one man and one woman" and that states should be the ones to define the terms. 

"Another day, and another issue Scott Walker has decided to take a wildly extreme position on," said Democratic National Committee spokesman Jason Pitt. "While the rest of the country moves forward and continues to recognize legal, same-sex marriage, Scott Walker, Steve King and other GOP 2016 hopefuls keep trying to turn back the clock."

Touting his record in Wisconsin, Walker boasted of the state's pension system, its 4.6 percent unemployment rate and the changes enacted through his signature Act 10 legislation, which eliminated collective bargaining rights for most public employees. The protests it sparked first propelled him to the national stage.

The biggest applause came in response to comments about defunding Planned Parenthood and passing castle doctrine, concealed carry and voter ID legislation. 

Absent were any mentions of Wisconsin's job growth, which earned him criticism from his detractors during a recent trip to Minnesota. The state ranks at 40th in the nation for job growth and 42nd for wage growth, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the state's job growth has lagged the national average since six months into Walker's first term.

But the crowd wasn't gathered at the church to talk about the economy. Most attendees said they were most concerned with where candidates stood on social issues and national security.

For Renee and Troy McGill, of Ankeny, abortion and marriage are top-priority issues when they consider who they'll support in the caucuses. 

"For me, pro-life is a huge issue," Renee said. "But I also liked what Carly (Fiorina) had to say about foreign policy."

Troy said he'd like to see a governor run for president, but more than that, he wants a candidate who will say what he or she means and stick to it.

Dallas County Supervisor Mark Hanson said he's heard Walker is that kind of candidate, but it's too soon for him to declare an allegiance with any of the contenders.

But he, too, said he's more likely to support a governor than a senator. 

"They're one of 100, and that's a little bit of what Obama is, too," Hanson said.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio found at least one supporter in David Hance, a retired attorney from Ankeny. Hance said the GOP needs someone new to national politics to be successful in 2016.

Hance said his personal favorite among the pack is former Texas Gov. Rick Perry — but Perry's 2012 performance has him wary of supporting him this time around. He likes Walker, too, but he's concerned about the governor's electability.

"I like him, but I know some of the independents and other people that have union connections are totally opposed to him," Hance said. "So that might drive away some of the independent and lukewarm Republicans that otherwise might vote for a Republican that didn’t have that type of conflict or that type of baggage."

Hanson said the crowd gathered in Waukee is a "segment of the base" in Iowa. The state's evangelical voters tend to be a little older, he said, but they also tend to have a strong turnout in the caucuses and at the polls.

Reading a passage from the devotional book "Jesus Calling," Walker told the crowd about his decision to run for governor in 2010 — something he and his wife, Tonette, decided through discussion and prayer. 

Walker has previously said he doesn't believe he should run for president because it's the "next logical step" in his career. Rather, he has said, it should be because he feels called to it.

"The best way to minister is to accept God's calling when you least expect it," Walker said. "We felt it was a calling to get in that election. We felt we were called to do the right thing, so we worried more about the next generation than we did the next election."

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.