Tony Evers Wins Wisconsin Governor’s Race, Beating Scott Walker

PEWAUKEE, Wis. — Gov. Scott Walker, who moved Wisconsin to the right over the last eight years, cutting taxes and sharply diminishing the power of labor unions, was defeated on Wednesday by the Democrat, Tony Evers, the state schools superintendent.

The win by Mr. Evers, which was reported by The Associated Press, was razor thin, about 2 percent. With more than 2.6 million votes cast, Mr. Evers lead by about 30,000 votes.

The win buoyed the hopes of Democrats in a long-divided state for a resounding return after 2016, when Wisconsin surprised many by helping secure the presidency for Donald J. Trump. This year’s Wisconsin race has been viewed as a crucial test of partisan control in the Midwest, where governors’ offices and state legislatures, including Wisconsin’s, have been dominated by Republicans.

Mr. Evers, 67, won amid signs of rising Democratic energy in several special elections in the state earlier in the year and despite a fierce fight for a third term by Mr. Walker, a Republican whose formidable political and organizational skills had showed him tied with Mr. Evers in polling before the election. The outcome was a blow to Wisconsin Republicans, who have for the last eight years largely dominated the state capital and remade policies from taxes to requirements to vote, but now face a changed landscape.

Democrats also held onto a Senate seat, securing the two top posts that they had aimed for. Senator Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat, was re-elected, easily holding off a challenge from Leah Vukmir, a state legislator.

Wisconsin was once seen as mostly blue but has often flipped back and forth, and over eight years of Republican dominance in Madison, the state has veered toward conservative policies.

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Mr. Walker, 51, a former county executive with reliable allies in the Legislature from his years as a member, upended the state within weeks of arriving in office in 2011 with what became his defining move: He called for cuts to collective bargaining rights for most public workers. The effort drew thousands of labor unions to protest in the streets around the State Capitol, and it made Mr. Walker — at the time little known outside the state — a national name. The fight over labor unions also led to calls for his removal, but Mr. Walker survived a recall election. The issue, and the attention, later helped propel a presidential run that quickly fizzled.

Under Mr. Walker, Republican leaders went on to cut taxes, approve a voter ID rule, expand school vouchers, make Wisconsin a right-to-work state and allow concealed weapons. The state agreed to provide $3 billion in tax credits so that Foxconn, a Taiwanese electronics company, could build a campus in southeast Wisconsin.

In a state that has, over time, swung between progressivism and conservatism, the race between Mr. Walker and Mr. Evers became a struggle to define — or redefine — the state’s political identity.

Before 2016, no Republican had won Wisconsin in a presidential race since 1984. So Mr. Trump’s win here two years ago, by 22,700 votes, set off a reckoning among Democrats, many of whom still thought of the state as the home of Robert M. La Follette, the famed progressive leader, and Gaylord A. Nelson, the founder of Earth Day.

Through 2018, there were concrete signs of surprising levels of Democratic energy around the state. Voters chose a liberal candidate to fill a State Supreme Court seat, and elected Democrats in special elections to two state legislative seats that had long been held by Republicans.

For months, as polls showed an extremely tight governor’s race, Mr. Walker himself was perhaps the loudest voice of worry about a “blue wave,” and he campaigned frenetically, making multiple swings across the state in the final days.

Along the campaign trail, Mr. Walker was firmly focused on the state’s economic gains. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate, around 3 percent, is below the national average and wage growth has been picking up.

He implored crowds to let him “finish the job” and grow the state’s work force over the next four years. “We can’t afford to turn around now,” Mr. Walker he said.

But Mr. Evers, a teacher and principal before he became the state’s superintendent of public instruction, defined his pitch as a desperately needed antidote for Wisconsin after eight years under the Walker administration. He said that so many years of conservative policies had starved the state’s school system of needed funds, left roads to decay, destroyed environmental protections, and that Mr. Walker was threatening the health care coverage of Wisconsin residents.

Mr. Evers, who is relatively well known in the state, had won a crowded Democratic primary in August. Some Democrats had worried that he was too bland, too normal — not dynamic enough to contend with Mr. Walker. But others said he was just what voters needed: a steady, reliable opponent who might not turn much attention to himself but would keep people firmly focused on Mr. Walker — and Mr. Walker’s legacy in Wisconsin.

In a final debate between the two, Mr. Evers described Mr. Walker’s years in charge of the state in blunt terms: “We have bad roads. We have a struggling school system that’s been politicized. And frankly, we have a health care system that’s under attack.”

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