MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker departs Friday for his first overseas trade mission, a 10-day tour to China that comes as Walker keeps up a furious travel schedule in the United States — fueling speculation he is trying to maintain a high profile in advance of a possible 2016 presidential run.
Walker downplayed any talk of running for president, repeating in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday that he is focused on his work as governor. If anything, Walker said being the first governor to survive a recall election will help him lead a more successful trade mission.
“For Wisconsin, whatever notoriety I have because of the last couple years makes it more interesting for leaders in China to want to talk to us,” he said.
But his recent travel schedule has only generated more speculation that his 2014 re-election bid for governor isn’t the only political race he has in mind. Walker was in Las Vegas last weekend for a state GOP event. And he plans to hit other Republican Party events in Arkansas later this month, Iowa in May, and California in June.
His introduction at a Wisconsin Restaurant Association meeting Wednesday referenced his possible presidential aspirations.
“Pretty soon he’ll need no introduction in Iowa and New Hampshire or North Carolina, I don’t imagine,” said Restaurant Association vice president Peter Hanson.
Walker responded to questions about the introduction by saying he would remain governor as long as people wanted.
“I love being governor, I’m focused on being governor,” Walker said. “I’ll be governor as long as people want me to be governor here.”
In the AP interview later, Walker said his priority is staying focused on his work as governor and not anything beyond that.
But Walker’s political foes remain convinced he’s running for president. His latest comments are not a surprise, said Scot Ross, director of the liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now.
“This is a carefully choreographed dance to keep all of his political options open, which should be no surprise for somebody who’s been running for office more than half his life,” Ross said.
The China trip gives Walker a chance to perform on the world stage for the first time. During his trip, Walker will join with governors from Virginia, Guam and Iowa for an event organized by the National Governors Association.
His itinerary includes briefings at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and meetings with officials in numerous industries, including agriculture, machinery, medical device and energy. Walker is traveling to Shanghai, Harbin and Beijing.
Walker is leading a state delegation that includes leaders of the University of Wisconsin, the heads of major companies including Oshkosh Corp., Harley-Davidson, Solaris and Badger State Ethanol.
Walker said the real work on the trade missions gets done before and after the trip.
“The key is the follow up,” he said. “We’ll sign agreements, we’ll do things, and then the key is making sure we follow up with those afterward.”
China, with the world’s second-largest economy, has long been a ripe market for products from the U.S. and Wisconsin. Walker’s predecessor, Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, led five trade missions there during his eight years as governor.
In 2012, Wisconsin’s exports to China, including dairy products, ginseng, and processed foods, totaled $1.5 billion. That was up 12 percent from 2011 and 30 percent from five years previous. China is the third largest export market for Wisconsin, behind Canada and Mexico.
Walker said he is also looking for Chinese companies interested in investing in Wisconsin.