MADISON – After upending Wisconsin politics and infuriating liberals across the country, Gov. Scott Walker narrowly lost his bid for a third term Tuesday to Tony Evers, the leader of the education establishment Walker blew up eight years ago.
The Associated Press called the race for Evers about 1:20 a.m. Wednesday based on unofficial returns.
The race was so close that Walker’s team said a detailed review of balloting and a recount were possible. But an unofficial tally had Evers winning by 1.1 percentage points — a margin that would be too large for a recount if it held.
“It’s time for a change, folks,” Evers, the state schools superintendent, told supporters in front of a large Wisconsin flag on the stage of Madison’s Orpheum Theater.
“I will be focused on solving problems, not on picking political fights.”
Walker’s lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch, told Republicans gathered in Pewaukee that volunteers and donations would be needed for a likely recount.
“The fight is not over,” Kleefisch told supporters around 1 a.m. “I am here to tell you this morning that this race is a dead heat. It’s too close to call.”
Walker campaign adviser Brian Reisinger said Walker would wait until the official canvass and tallying military ballots before deciding what to do.
“Thousands of ballots were damaged and had to be re-created,” Reisinger said in a statement. “Until there is a comparison of the original ballots to the re-created ballots, there is no way to judge their validity.”
This campaign marked Walker’s fourth run for governor in eight years, including an unsuccessful effort to recall him in the middle of his first term.
A win by Evers would give Democrats a grip on power in Wisconsin’s Capitol for the first time in six years.
His running mate, former state Rep. Mandela Barnes, would become the state’s first African-American lieutenant governor when the two are sworn in in January.
“We are bringing education back to the state of Wisconsin,” Barnes said. “We are bringing science back to the state of Wisconsin and we will bring equality back to the state of Wisconsin.”
Walker’s national profile
Walker drew national attention in 2011 when he unveiled a plan to scale back collective bargaining for most public workers and was met with massive protests and, a year later, the recall election.
Walker’s limits on unions and his victory in the recall election paved the way for a presidential run.
That campaign sputtered and Walker withdrew from the race in September 2015. He spent the following years trying to re-connect with voters, but Evers and his allies used Walker’s presidential run to portray him as a politician more interested in himself than the people of the state.
As the state schools superintendent, Evers for years has been at odds with Walker on school funding, the expansion of private school vouchers and the ability of teachers to collectively bargain. Evers often deployed his criticism of Walker in a low-key fashion and the two at times found ways to work together before Evers mounted his bid for governor last year.
End of total GOP control
An Evers’ victory would end the complete control of the state Capitol that Republicans have enjoyed since 2013. But with Republicans holding on to both houses of the Legislature, Evers would have to find compromise to achieve his priorities.
Some of Evers’ goals, such as eliminating the limits on unions known as Act 10 and the state’s school voucher programs, would be all but certain to remain out of reach for him with split control of state government.
The race for attorney general was also tight, with Democrat Josh Kaul leading Republican incumbent Brad Schimel 50 percent to 49 percent — making a recount possible in that race, too.