The neck-and-neck race between Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Tony Evers has had a head-swiveling rash of twists and turns ahead of Election Day on Tuesday.
The race is one of the most closely watched gubernatorial contests in the country on a day that will also determine which party controls Congress for the next two years of Donald Trump’s presidency.
For Wisconsin voters the stakes in the gubernatorial contest are particularly high given the winner will control one of the key levers in the redistricting process that takes place after the 2020 Census.
Both Walker, vying for a third term, and Evers, the state superintendent of public instruction, made notable last-minute reversals with key omissions or contradictions on issues that have dogged them throughout the race — Evers on his tax plans and Walker on protecting people with pre-existing health conditions.
Voters will decide a host of other key races Tuesday. The most high-profile are Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s bid for a second term, challenged by Republican state Sen. Leah Vukmir; and GOP state Attorney General Brad Schimel also vying for a second term against Democrat Josh Kaul, a former federal prosecutor.
Many voters, including in Dane County, also can weigh in on whether the state should legalize marijuana for medical or recreational use.
The outcome of the governor’s race will determine if state government continues to be a national laboratory for conservative change as it has for eight years under Walker. A Walker win also would signal a continuing rightward shift in Wisconsin, one of the nation’s political tipping points.
Should Evers win, control of state government likely would be divided between parties. But it would mark a resurgence for Wisconsin Democrats, who have held little power in the state Capitol since 2011. They would regain a seat at the table on the state budget, state participation in federal health care initiatives, redistricting and other key issues.
Evers says his priorities would be giving a $1.7 billion infusion to a state public-school system that he says faltered under Walker, ensuring access to affordable health care and fixing the state’s deteriorating roads and bridges.
Walker has said his priorities would include continuing to hold the line on taxes, maintaining a tuition freeze at public colleges and universities, and bolstering the state’s workforce. He has said his third term would be his last.
The most recent Marquette Law School Poll last week showed a tied race between Evers and Walker, 47-47. An Emerson College poll released Friday showed Evers leading 51-46, though still within the poll’s error margin of plus-or-minus 4.1 percentage points.
Polls consistently have shown Baldwin with a solid lead over Vukmir. Wednesday’s Marquette poll put her lead at 54-43.
Schimel has led Kaul in polls but by a narrowing margin, with the latest Marquette poll putting his lead at 47-45, inside the plus-or-minus 3.2 percentage point margin of error.
Evers, Walker reversals
Evers told The Washington Post, in an article published last week that if elected, “I’m planning to raise no taxes.” Evers repeated the claim in an interview that aired Sunday on WISN-TV.
That doesn’t square with Evers’ proposal to end tax credits provided to farmers and manufacturers earning more than $300,000 a year as part of a broader tax overhaul that could cut income taxes on the middle class by 10 percent. Evers also has said he’s open to other tax hikes, including on fuel and wealthy individuals.
An Evers spokesman, in response to a State Journal inquiry Friday, said only that his tax policy has not changed — but did not clarify or explain his comments to the Post.
Walker, speaking to WISN-TV in the Sunday segment, said “Tony’s taxes will cost us jobs.”
Meanwhile Walker, after being one of the nation’s foremost opponents of former President Barack Obama’s health care law, said last week he wants to codify in state law the “exact same” language of one of its key protections — ensuring people with pre-existing health conditions can obtain affordable coverage — so they would continue even if Obamacare were repealed.
Not mentioned by Walker was that people in Wisconsin who get their insurance through a self-funded employer plan could lose pre-existing condition legal protections if Obamacare were repealed, regardless of what law the state passes. That’s because federal law only permits the federal government to regulate those plans.
GOP state lawmakers also have declined to pass a bill applying a much less comprehensive set of protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Speaking to WISN-TV in the Sunday segment, Walker said Republican lawmakers “absolutely” would pass what he’s proposing — despite their resistance last session to the less sweeping measure.
Evers, meanwhile, said if Walker really wanted to protect people with pre-existing conditions, he would drop out of a multi-state lawsuit seeking to overturn the Obamacare law, which established those protections in federal law.
“I think he’s lying to the people of Wisconsin,” Evers said.
Congressional, legislative races
In south central Wisconsin’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes Dane County, Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Black Earth, is running unopposed for a fourth term.
But a host of competitive congressional and legislative races will be in play. The most closely contested congressional races are expected to be in Wisconsin’s 1st and 6th Districts.
The race in the 1st District is to succeed outgoing U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, and pits Republican attorney and University of Wisconsin Regent Bryan Steil, of Janesville, against Racine ironworker and labor activist Randy Bryce.
In the 6th District, U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Glenbeulah, seeks to fend off Democratic challenger Dan Kohl, of Mequon.
State legislative races expected to be competitive in south-central and southwest Wisconsin include:
- Senate District 17, where Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, is challenged by Democrat Kriss Marion, of Blanchardville;
- Assembly District 51, where Rep. Todd Novak, R-Dodgeville, faces Democrat Jeff Wright, of Plain;
- Assembly District 96, where Republican Loren Oldenburg faces Democrat Paul Buhr, both of Viroqua, to succeed outgoing Rep. Lee Nerison.
Other statewide races on the ballot are state treasurer and secretary of state. All U.S. congressional seats are on the ballot, as are all state Assembly seats and half of the state Senate seats.
Voters in 16 counties and two cities also will get to vote on advisory referendums on legalizing marijuana either for medical use, recreational use or both.
The advisory nature of the referendums means if approved, they would not end the state’s prohibition of marijuana. Still, advocates hope favorable results show Wisconsinites are ready for a new approach to regulating the drug.