Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers won the Democratic primary on Tuesday to challenge Republican Gov. Scott Walker, setting up an education-focused fall gubernatorial race.
Evers was the front-runner in a crowded primary, with former state Rep. Kelda Roys and state firefighters union president Mahlon Mitchell as his major competition.
Wisconsin is expected to be one of the closest gubernatorial contests in the country in November, and the Democratic and Republican governors associations have each reserved millions of dollars of television ad time. Democrats view this election as their best chance to finally knock off Walker, who managed to crush the state’s public employee unions in 2011 and survive a recall attempt in 2012.
President Donald Trump’s approval ratings in the state are low, and a state Supreme Court election this spring showed Democratic energy was high.
The 66-year-old Evers was the best-known politician in the Democratic field. He won his most recent election as superintendent in April 2017 with 70 percent of the vote. He’s banked his campaign on education, pitching himself as the remedy to Walker-backed cuts to the state’s schools and universities.
“What’s best for our kids is what’s best for our economy and our democracy,” Evers said in a phone interview last month. “We can’t let our higher and K-12 systems flounder for another four years.”
Walker has spent heavily on ads promoting himself as “the education governor,” which Evers and other Democrats have dismissed as laughable.
The other Democrats in the race, including Roys and Mitchell, tried to argue Evers would be a weaker candidate in the general election. They portrayed him as boring ― “I have nothing bad to say about Tony Evers,” Mitchell once said. “He’s like my grandfather.” ― and as unable to fire up the party’s base in November.
National Democrats have consistently viewed those complaints as overwrought, hoping Evers’ low-key demeanor will contrast with the partisan warfare of Walker’s tenure as governor.
Republicans have already made clear they plan to attack Evers as a “Madison bureaucrat” ― referring to the liberal state capital ― who didn’t do enough to punish teachers accused of wrongdoing.