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Josh Kaul victory

Josh Kaul declares victory in the AG race in Madison Wednesday morning. 

Democrat Josh Kaul declared victory Wednesday morning in the race for Wisconsin attorney general after a tight contest with Republican incumbent Brad Schimel, though Schimel has not officially conceded. 

The Associated Press had not yet officially called the race as of 9:30 a.m. Wednesday but with 99 percent of precincts reporting, it had Kaul ahead of Schimel, 49.54 percent to 48.68 percent, with 22,673 votes between them.

Delivering remarks to a small group of supporters outside of the Dane County Courthouse in Madison, Kaul thanked his family, staff and supporters and said that he would work to be an independent voice, a "watchdog" and an advocate for all Wisconsinites. He said he would work with Gov.-elect Tony Evers to withdraw the state from the federal lawsuit seeking to invalidate the Affordable Care Act. 

Kaul highlighted a series of issues he would address as attorney general, ranging from increased prosecution of companies that violate environmental laws to increased mental health money for schools across the state. 

He also said he would go after large pharmaceutical companies for their role in the opioid epidemic. Kaul has advocated for a multi-state lawsuit against the companies, while Schimel has favored an investigation in an effort to get a settlement from a series of companies involved in manufacturing opioids.

"We are finally going to be serious about holding pharmaceutical companies accountable," Kaul said. He said he would fight to expand Medicaid in Wisconsin, which would cover 80,000 more residents and could also save the state money, which he would then use to fund more prosecutors. 

Kaul said he would work to proactively enforce the state's environmental laws and prosecute polluters. 

"In 2018, safe drinking water for our families should be non-negotiable," he said. 

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Kaul said he would not comment on a statement released by the Schimel campaign. 

Schimel said in a statement that "while the results are not final, it appears (Kaul) has won this race. I told him I am waiting until the municipal and county canvasses are complete, all military ballots are accounted for and that every vote is counted. We also want to know more about what happened with the absentee ballots in Milwaukee County."

Schimel said that if the margin "does not substantially change, I have vowed that my team will assist him in making the transition as smooth as possible." He said voters would know more in about a week. 

The state’s attorney general race saw historic spending for both candidates by the Republican Attorneys General Association and the Democratic Attorneys General Association. Independent express advocacy groups spent $4.9 million on the race as of last week, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. The Republican Attorneys General Association outspent its Democratic counterpart, spending more than $2.7 million through its Wisconsin Freedom PAC, while the Democratic Attorneys General Association spent about $1.9 million.

The candidates sparred over several debates, highlighting differences in how they would handle the opioid crisis and pharmaceutical companies and health care. Schimel had the backing of a majority of sheriffs in the state, including Dane County’s, while Kaul had the support of more than 40 lawyers who used to work at the Department of Justice, who said Schimel’s management of the agency has led to low morale.  

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Katelyn Ferral is The Cap Times' public affairs and investigative reporter. She joined the paper in 2015 and previously covered the energy industry for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. She's also covered state politics and government in North Carolina.