Dem Tony Evers wins reelection as Wisconsin voters split top state offices between parties
Tony Evers (Nuccio DiNuzzo:AFP)
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers won a second term Tuesday night, defeating Republican Tim Michels, executive of a family- owned construction company in an election night that showed Wisconsin to be politically split right down the middle.

Michels conceded the race at about 20 minutes after midnight Wednesday, as Evers’s lead grew with more than 97% of the ballots counted.

Meanwhile, Evers’ outgoing lieutenant governor, Mandela Barnes, was narrowly behind in his race to block Republican Sen. Ron Johnson from winning a third term in the early hours Wednesday. The Barnes campaign ended its watch party before 1 a.m. Wednesday without either declaring victory or conceding defeat.

Johnson told supporters he believed the race was over but stopped short of declaring victory.

In addition to the victory by Evers and his new running mate, Sara Rodriguez, Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul also appeared to be headed for a second term. With 99% of the vote counted, Republican Eric Toney, the Fond du Lac County district attorney, conceded in the early morning hours.

In the other two statewide races that were up Tuesday, however, Republicans were in the lead by the early hours Wednesday.

Longtime Secretary of State Doug La Follette was trailing in his race for reelection by 21,000 votes behind his challenger, Republican State Rep. Amy Loudenbeck. With 99% of the vote counted, Loudenbeck had 48.9% of the vote to 47.5% for La Follette.

The secretary of state race had been closely watched because of the prospect that a Republican takeover of the office could lead to changes in state election administration under a Republican governor.

Also with 99% of the vote counted, in the race for state treasurer, Republican John Leiber was leading Democrat Aaron Richadson by more than 60,000 votes, 50.5% to 47.3%.

With 97% of the votes counted early Wednesday morning, Evers led the race for governor with 51% to Michels’ 48% for Michels, garnering a winning margin of more than 77,000 votes.

“Unfortunately, the math doesn’t add up,” Michels told a disappointed crowd at his election watch party, held at the Italian Community Center in Milwaukee. “I just called Gov. Evers and conceded. I wish the Evers family well.”

At Evers’ election party at the Orpheum Theatre in Madison, the newly reelected governor told a cheering crowd, “I’m jazzed as hell to tell you that on Jan 3, 2023, I will still be the 46th governor of Wisconsin.” He thanked his Michels, who he said had called him to concede, for a hard-fought race.

Some people said he was boring, Evers added, “but it turns out, boring wins.”

Evers thanked the voters for their “grace, kindness and compassion” and said “you showed up for me and showed up for each other.”

Evers then reeled off the issues voters “showed up for,” including reproductive rights, LGBTQ and trans kids’ rights, economic fairness, public schools and saving a “democracy on the brink.”

Part of the reason for Evers’ strength was his performance in Republican strongholds including the Milwaukee suburbs.

Michels, in contrast, failed to win as many votes as former GOP Gov. Scott Walker and other Republicans in areas that have been crucial to Republican victories. Michels still carried those areas, but by less than Republicans’ historical margins. While Michels won suburban Waukesha by 21 points, as Craig Gilbert, a Lubar Center fellow at Marquette University Law school pointed out, Walker won the suburb by much larger margins — 33.6 % in 2018 and 45.6% in 2014.

Turnout in Dane County, the Democratic stronghold that includes Madison, also contributed significantly to Evers’ success. Evers won Dane County by 78.7% with 233,902 votes compared with the 220,053 votes he won when he was first elected in 2018.

But in the city of Milwaukee, another critical blue area for Democrats, turnout was down by about 40,000 votes from 2018. That was not good news for Barnes, a Milwaukee native.

As Evers supporters watched the returns on the big screen at the Orpheum theater, state Sen. Melissa Agard said some voters she spoke with during the campaign had told her they generally voted Republican, but were supporting Evers because they felt Republicans’ gerrymandered control of the Legislature was out of balance. Such ticket splitting might help account for the gap in vote totals between Evers and Barnes.

It could also explain the much tighter races for the other three statewide offices as well as the party shifts for state treasurer and secretary of state.

With reporting contributed by Ruth Conniff, Henry Redman, Baylor Spears and Isiah Holmes.

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