DES MOINES -- For many presidential candidates, a trip to the Iowa State Fair this week means scheduling a diet skip day or saving up calories to enjoy regional cuisine such as greasy pork chops and deep-fried Snickers bars -- or just taking bites instead of finishing the whole thing.
Not so for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who will be at the fair on Monday. The 47-year-old Republican regularly eats like this pretty much every day on the campaign trail, documenting his caloric consumption on social media like a wrestler trying to bulk up for the season.
While other GOP candidates work diligently to control their weight through restrictive diets ordered up by doctors (former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, 59) or by going on the Paleo diet (former Florida governor Jeb Bush, 62) or through surgery (New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, 52), Walker has been shamelessly flaunting his youthful metabolism.
— Scott Walker (@ScottWalker) July 12, 2015
There was that Big Mac at the Wisconsin McDonald’s where he used to work as a teen, followed by meals at Burger King, Chick-fil-a and Jimmy John’s. Oh, and a couple stops at Dairy Queen. Rounds of Miller Light on the campaign bus, plus a Leinenkugel Summer Shandy by the fire pit at home. And liters of cranberry juice, as that's a major Wisconsin crop he likes to promote. There were a double cheeseburger and a beer at a bar in Chicago. Two biscuit-and-sausage sandwiches in Nashville. Cream puffs at the Wisconsin State Fair. A corned-beef sandwich with potato salad and lemonade in Cleveland. Lots of pizza, lots of burgers, and lots and lots of barbecue.
As Walker ate cheesecake for breakfast during a Fox News Channel interview in late July, Wall Street investor Anthony Scaramucci -- one of Walker’s biggest fundraisers -- proudly tweeted: “Our guy eats Cheesecake and fast-food. #thefutureisbright!” Scaramucci added a shout-out to the governor’s “great metabolism.”
— Anthony Scaramucci (@Scaramucci) August 1, 2015
It’s an all-American diet, one that fits with Walker’s image of being a middle-class, beer-drinking, Harley-riding Midwestern dad who wants to run for president simply to make the world a better place for his two college-age sons. And Walker is able to pull it off -- at least for now -- without noticeably gaining weight and still fitting into his limited rotation of casual shirts from Kohl’s department stores. His secret? Just making sure to log at least 10,000 steps per day on his Fitbit bracelet tracker, sometimes upping that number with a run.
"I've got a clean bill of health," Walker said following a recent town hall in southwest Iowa, noting that he had a healthy wrap for lunch that day (although not healthy enough to fit within the parameters of Bush's Paleo diet, which forbids most forms of gluten). "I've been blessed: I'm in good shape -- other than allergies. I wish I wasn't allergic to cats and dogs, but that's about the worst thing I've got. And a little bit of eczema, sometimes. And I wish I could grow a little bit more hair on my scar up there," he said, mentioning his bald spot, which he says is the result of having bumped his head while fixing a sink years ago and not natural aging.
"But other than that," Walker said, "I think I'm in pretty good shape."
When asked if being one of the younger candidates in a crowded GOP field is something he's trying to play up on the campaign trail, Walker responded: "I'll leave that up to voters. … There are good examples of people who are stellar regardless of age. I do think what makes us unique isn't age as much as it is: I'm a new fresh face. I think voters want a new fresh face. We're going to take on Hillary Clinton, who is a name from the past."
On the campaign trail, Walker regularly talks about the black Fitbit band on his left wrist -- mentioning it more often than gay marriage or, until recently, immigration. The band retails for less than $100 and, with the help of a smartphone app, tracks the number of steps taken in a day, calories consumed, pounds lost and number of hours slept. It was a Christmas gift from his sons, although Walker didn't become obsessive about using it until this spring. Everyone in the family now has one -- along with most campaign staffers, who often compare their step numbers and encourage each other along. Walker's wife, Tonette Walker, has made exercise one of her hallmark issues as first lady of Wisconsin and is known for pushing healthy snacks on the campaign bus.
— Tonette Walker (@TonetteWalker) July 25, 2015
During a trade mission trip to Canada, Walker told an audience that he tries to drink at least 64 ounces of water each day with the help of his Fitbit -- a transition into saying that he trusts the drinking water in Quebec City, unlike in some foreign countries he has visited. Walker told CNN that he memorized his lengthy announcement speech while pacing around the governor's mansion grounds late at night: "I got a lot of Fitbit steps. I got about 20,000 each of those days." And during a question-and-answer session before a crowd of major GOP donors in Southern California -- more of a Paleo crowd than a McDonald's one -- Walker looked up how many steps he had taken so far that day: 9,128.
Walker's campaign manager, Rick Wiley, is a fitness fanatic who brags on Twitter about 25-mile bike rides and dropping to "pump out some burpees" while running in Washington. The candidate prefers a basic run, sometimes outdoors in the cities he visits but often on a hotel treadmill, opting for a straight and steady path instead of adding any elevation. When asked about his standing in early polls, Walker always comes back with this answer: "I used to run track in the small town I grew up in, and when I ran the half-mile, there were a lot of runners who would run out ahead, but they weren't the ones I was competing with at the end. … That's when it really matters."
Sometimes Walker posts photos of scenes along his runs -- but food pics seem to get the most attention.
Last week, Walker posted a photo of an unexciting slice of sausage pizza he ate for dinner at the Charlotte airport, attracting nearly 1,000 likes on Instagram and more than 200 comments, including this one: "Thank you, Scott Walker, for being 'real.' Love seeing these posts!" But there were also comments like these: "Hope you make it to the White House and don't get detoured by a [heart] attack" and "My word you might gain 300 lbs by the election but that is cool you are a good politician."
Keeping up this eat-like-an-American diet can at times leave the candidate looking like a contestant on a game show. In late July, Walker was in the Philadelphia area for a series of fundraisers and stopped to get a cheesesteak sandwich. Unfortunately, two of the city's most popular cheesesteak shops are across the street from each other -- a politician can't go to one without alienating voters who prefer the other. So Walker went to both, ordering a cheesesteak without onions and American cheese instead of Cheez Whiz, saying he didn't want to get sauce all over his dress shirt. Then he sat down with strangers and tried to finish the sandwiches as quickly as possible, so as to keep things running on schedule, but also tried not to talk with his mouth full, as a swarm of reporters were documenting his every bite. Sweat dripped down his face.
The first stop was Geno's Steaks, where Walker sat at a table with Tom DiCampli, a 49-year-old mechanical engineer who grew up in the neighborhood, along with the mother of DiCampli's best friend and the 18-year-old son of another friend.
As Walker listed everything he had eaten the day before during a visit to Chicago, DiCampli asked: "How many times a day do you eat now?"
"A lot," Walker responded.
"You seem like you're in great shape," DiCampli said. Walker, mid-bite, held up his arm: "Fitbit."
Walker's favorite meal? Pasta dinners at firehouses, including the one near his family's home in the Milwaukee suburbs.
"My wife is Sicilian," Walker continued. "I say: I'm not Italian by blood but I am, more importantly, by marriage and, most importantly, by diet."
Suzanne Rossomando, the 71-year-old mother of DiCampli's best friend, nodded vigorously: "That's exactly right." She then chided DiCampli for not finishing his cheesesteak as quickly as the presidential candidate.
Walker then quickly made his way to the second shop, Pat's King of Steaks, for a second sandwich with a second group of strangers. Halfway through, Walker said he couldn't finish but would take it to go, prompting some teasing on Twitter. As he answered questions from reporters, he refused to pick a favorite sandwich between the two, which he said would be like picking a favorite between his two sons.
But he added with a smirk: "This is the fun part. You get to eat your way around America."