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Scott Walker's Successor?

Meet Wisconsin lieutenant governor Rebecca Kleefisch.

3:45 PM, Apr 7, 2014 • By MARIA SANTOS
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Like Palin, Kleefisch is polished and attractive, with the poise of a broadcast journalist. Both women have been called “Barbies.” As lieutenant governor, her domain is limited to job growth, so she doesn’t talk much about social issues. But, like Palin, she occasionally gets in trouble for making incendiary remarks, like the time she compared gay marriage to marrying a dog. If Kleefisch wants to make it to the governor's mansion one day, she'll need to put comments like that behind her.

Kleefisch talks about her role as a mom frequently, but bristles at what she calls sexist remarks from the media. In a short Politico video, she describes the time a local reporter asked her if negative emails written about her by aides and recently uncovered in an investigation of Scott Walker’s time as county executive “hurt her feelings.” “I would find it really hard to believe if that same journalist turned around and asked my governor, who is a man, ‘Governor, did it hurt your feelings when someone said something about you?’” She scoffs at the idea that she should be so thin-skinned.

There’s no question that Kleefisch is tough. Two weeks before her 2010 primary, doctors found “a grapefruit-sized tumor in my gut,” she recalls. The tumor required immediate surgery. She was released from the hospital a few hours before the polls closed on election night. She rushed to the polls to vote, and then left for her victory party.

She also survived the only recall election against a lieutenant governor in history, spurred by Governor Walker’s controversial public employee union reforms. The recall brought some attention to her when national conservative figures rallied around her, like Michelle Malkin, and, of course, Sarah Palin.

When she’s not cold-calling CEOs, Kleefisch develops worker training programs and public-private partnerships to address unemployment problems. In one instance, she found a private foundation willing to help unemployed people who had lost their drivers licenses pay to reinstate them. She uses this as an example of what government should do to eliminate common barriers to employment, like lack of transportation.

Kleefisch is clearly driven by her marketing training in everything she does. “As journalists, we’re storytellers, aren’t we?” she says. So far, Kleefisch and Governor Scott Walker have an impressive story to tell. The previous administration’s $3.6 billion deficit turned into a $759 million surplus by 2013. Since Republicans took control, unemployment dropped from 9.2 percent to 6.3 percent.

Kleefisch won’t say what she hopes the future holds for her. But with abundant rumors of a Walker presidential run, she’s bound to be wondering how far that story could take her.

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