Evers wins re-election as voters split their tickets in other state races

By: - November 9, 2022 2:50 am
Gov. Tony Evers addresses the media after casting his ballot on Nov. 8, 2022 | Photo by Henry Redman

Gov. Tony Evers addresses the media after casting his ballot on Nov. 8, 2022 | Photo by Henry Redman

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers won a second term Tuesday night, defeating Republican Tim Michels, executive of a family- owned construction company in an election night that showed Wisconsin to be politically split right down the middle. 

Michels conceded the race at about 20 minutes after midnight Wednesday, as Evers’s lead grew with more than 97% of the ballots counted. 

Meanwhile, Evers’ outgoing lieutenant governor, Mandela Barnes, was narrowly behind in his race to block Republican Sen. Ron Johnson from winning a third term in the early hours Wednesday. The Barnes campaign ended its watch party before 1 a.m. Wednesday without either declaring victory or conceding defeat.

Johnson told supporters he believed the race was over but stopped short of declaring victory. By shortly after 6 a.m. Wednesday, with 98% of the votes counted, Johnson was ahead with 50.6% to 49.4% for Barnes, a margin of less than 32,000 votes.

In addition to the victory by Evers and his new running mate, Sara Rodriguez, Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul also appeared to be headed for a second term. With 99% of the vote counted, Republican Eric Toney, the Fond du Lac County district attorney, conceded in the early morning hours. By 6 a.m. Wednesday, totals showed Kaul with 50.5% to Toney’s 49.5%, a spread of about 28,000 votes.

After trailing in his race for re-election in the hours after midnight, Secretary of State Doug La Follette regained the lead in counting, with 48.2% and 1.256 million votes and 99% of votes counted. His challenger, Republican State Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, was short by fewer than 2,000 votes, with 48.1% of the ballots cast. Two third-party challengers made up the balance.

The secretary of state race had been closely watched because of the prospect that a Republican takeover of the office could lead to changes in state election administration under a Republican governor. 

Also with 99% of the vote counted, in the race for state treasurer, Republican John Leiber was leading with 49.8% to Democrat Aaron Richadson’s 48%. Leiber’s margin was more than 44,000 votes.

Leiber campaigned on holding the treasurer’s office to the limited duties that the job now has under state law, in contrast to the expanded role that Democratic incumbent Sarah Godlewski had taken on after winning four years ago. Godlewski did not run again, but Richardson had campaigned proposing to follow her example. 

With 97% of the votes counted by shortly after midnight, Evers led the race for governor with 51% to Michels’ 48% for Michels. Updated totals Wednesday morning showed Evers with a margin of more than 84,000 votes.

“Unfortunately, the math doesn’t add up,” Michels told a disappointed crowd at his election watch party, held at the Italian Community Center in Milwaukee. “I just called Gov. Evers and conceded. I wish the Evers family well.”

At Evers’ election party at the Orpheum Theatre in Madison, the newly re-elected governor told a cheering crowd, “I’m jazzed as hell to tell you that on Jan 3, 2023, I will still be the 46th governor of Wisconsin.” He thanked his Michels, who he said had called him to concede, for a hard-fought race.

Some people said he was boring, Evers added, “but it turns out, boring wins.”

Evers thanked the voters for their “grace, kindness and compassion” and said “you showed up for me and showed up for each other.”

Evers then reeled off the issues voters “showed up for,” including reproductive rights, LGBTQ and trans kids’ rights, economic fairness, public schools and saving a “democracy on the brink.”

Part of the reason for Evers’ strength was his performance in Republican strongholds including the Milwaukee suburbs.

Michels, in contrast, failed to win as many votes as former GOP Gov. Scott Walker and other Republicans in areas that have been crucial to Republican victories. Michels still carried those areas, but by less than Republicans’ historical margins. While Michels won suburban Waukesha by 21 points, as Craig Gilbert, a Lubar Center fellow at Marquette University Law school pointed out, Walker won the suburb by much larger margins — 33.6 % in 2018 and 45.6% in 2014.

Turnout in Dane County, the Democratic stronghold that includes Madison, also contributed significantly to Evers’ success. Evers won Dane County by 78.7% with 233,902 votes compared with the 220,053 votes he won when he was first elected in 2018.

But in the city of Milwaukee, another critical blue area for Democrats, turnout was down by about 40,000 votes from 2018. That was not good news for Barnes, a Milwaukee native.

As Evers supporters watched the returns on the big screen at the Orpheum theater, state Sen. Melissa Agard told the Examiner that some voters she spoke with during the campaign said they generally voted Republican, but were supporting Evers because they felt Republicans’ gerrymandered control of the Legislature was out of balance. Such ticket splitting might help account for the gap in vote totals between Evers and Barnes.

It could also explain the much tighter races for the other three statewide offices as well as the party shifts for state treasurer and secretary of state.

With reporting by Ruth Conniff, Henry Redman, Baylor Spears and Isiah Holmes.

This story was updated at 7 a.m. Wednesday, 11/9/2022, with the most recent unofficial voting numbers.

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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary.