MADISON, WI — Wisconsin State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers (D) has won his crowded primary, setting up a major clash with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) in the fall.
Evers led an eight-candidate field with 41 percent of the vote, with state firefighters union head Mahlon Mitchell in second place at 22 percent of the vote and 44 percent of precincts reporting as of 10:30 p.m. EST. The Associated Press called the race shortly after 9 p.m.
His victory sets up what Democrats hope is their best chance at defeating Walker since he ascended to the governor’s office in 2010.
The results set off a whoop and chants of “Tony, Tony” at Evers’ victory party, held across the street from Madison’s capitol building — one that’s been at the epicenter of protests and heartbreak for Democrats for the last decade.
Walker took a hit in-state with his presidential run, with numbers that had held steadily at 50-50 for the deeply polarizing figure sliding underwater. Most recent public polling suggests he’s never fully recovered — and in a swing state where President Trump will likely prove a drag.
Evers quickly turned to the general election, flaying Walker for his deep cuts to the state education budget — an area of strength for the state education head and public school teacher — before turning to healthcare and the state’s roads.
“I’ve seen, on the faces of our kids the devastation of Scott Walker’s cuts to public education,” he said. “I’ve watched has Scott Walker has made decision after decision that benefits himself and his wealthy donors, and not what benefits us, the people of Wisconsin.”
Evers’ solid statewide win sets him up well for the general election, and some public and private polls have already shown him ahead — a remarkable position for a challenger to be in before he even secured the primary. But the battle-tested and politically savvy Walker will be a tough out in a state he’s carried three times. And the governor has been preparing for months for what he recognizes will be his toughest statewide race in his career, with $5 million in the bank for the general election, while Evers emerges from the crowded primary with almost no money in the bank.
National Democrats have already committed $4 million to help Evers, but his allies acknowledge that the cash deficit needs to be closed for him to have a shot — and that his shoestring campaign will need to grow rapidly from his current three full-time staffers to compete with Walker’s vaunted machine.
“He needs a big infusion of cash right now. This is the reality. This is our reality. Tonight, we’re the launchpad for a winning gubernatorial race in Wisconsin,” former Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton (D) told supporters at Evers’ party.
Evers isn’t exactly the most charismatic candidate — he still sounds like the local school superintendent he once was on the stump, occasionally stumbling over his words, and the most unusual thing about him may be the way his name is pronounced (it rhymes with believers). But Walker isn’t the most telegenic candidate either — and Democrats are banking that their base is so fired up this year that running even-keeled candidates who can appeal to centrists turned off by Trump the GOP to win in big swing states.