By M.D. Kittle
Update: Gov. Walker on Wednesday afternoon conceded the election to Tony Evers.
MADISON – Democrat Tony Evers declared victory just after 1:30 a.m Wednesday, the culmination of a long – and disputed – election night.
But the razor-thin result, allegations of thousands of damaged ballots, and a late-night surprise from Democrat stronghold Milwaukee County promised that Wisconsin’s dead-heat gubernatorial race was far from over.
Evers, superintendent of the state Department of Public Instruction, bested Republican Gov. Scott Walker by less than 29,000 votes, or just over 1 percent of the votes cast in the heavy-turnout election (The unofficial count stood at 1,316,247 votes for Evers to 1,287,374 votes for Walker). But that didn’t stop Evers – and the Associated Press – from declaring the Democrat the victor.
“The voters of Wisconsin spoke, and they agreed it’s time for a change,” an excited Evers told supporters early Wednesday morning.
He would receive no concession speech from the two-term governor.
“I am here this morning to tell you the fight is not over,” Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch told a riled up crowd at Walker election campaign headquarters. She said the campaign was preparing for the likelihood of a recount, that it was critical that “every valid vote in the state of Wisconsin is counted.”
Not long after, Walker spokesman Brian Reisinger told MacIver News Service and NewsTalk 1130 WISN that the campaign has deep concerns about some 45,000 absentee ballots that Milwaukee County election officials late Tuesday announced had yet to be counted, even as the county reported 99 percent of precincts had reported.
“We need the official canvass and for military ballots to be counted before any decision can be made,” Reisinger said. “Thousands of ballots were damaged and had to be recreated.”
He said until there is a comparison of the original ballots to those that were “recreated,” there will be “no way to judge their validity.”
Likewise, the Milwaukee County issue made the state’s attorney general race too close to call. Incumbent Republican Brad Schimel had been ahead by several thousand votes until the Milwaukee County glitch. As it stood Wednesday morning, Democrat challenger Josh Kaul held a narrow lead, with 1,301,983 votes to Schimel’s 1,281,296 votes. Neither campaign conceded.
The big story early in the night was the massive turnout by voters in liberal bastion Dane County, where Evers beat Walker by more than 150,00 votes (220,008 to 69,200 – a 75 percent to 24 percent trouncing). As has often been the case, Walker won the so-called WOW Counties – Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties – by significant margins.
Just as the Dane County vote appeared to sink Walker’s bid to become only the second Wisconsin governor to secure a third term, the storyline shifted to outstate and rural vote counts. A little over two hours in, the vote tallies statewide showed Walker overcoming Evers’ Madison advantage and pulling ahead. Then the Milwaukee County absentee ballots popped up. While it was a back-and-forth battle for vote totals, the Republican could not overcome the tens of thousands of Milwaukee County ballots dropped into the totals late Tuesday.
In Wisconsin’s historic U.S. Senate race pitting two female candidates against each other for the first time in state history, incumbent Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Madison) handily beat outgoing state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield), 55 percent to 45 percent. Baldwin, billed as an unabashed liberal from Wisconsin’s most liberal city, actually campaigned as a moderate force in congress, contrary to her radical left record.
In a highly watched House race, U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Glenbeulah) beat back a challenge from Democrat Dan Kohl, a former liberal D.C. lobbyist and nephew of former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Milwaukee). Grothman, outspent in the race, won with 56 percent of the vote to Kohl’s 44 percent in the conservative 6th congressional district.
And Republican newcomer Bryan Steil kept the 1st Congressional District red, clobbering ultra-liberal Democrat Randy “the Iron Stache” Bryce, 55 percent to 42 percent. The seat is currently held by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Janesville), who announced his retirement earlier this year.
Incumbents did well. Other House race winners included: Ron Kind (D-La Crosse); Gwen Moore (D-Milwaukee); Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Menomonee Falls); Sean Duffy (R-Weston); and Mike Gallagher (R-Green Bay).
If the state election results hold, Democrat Evers will govern with a Republican-controlled state Legislature. The GOP, as expected, maintained a significant majority in the Assembly. As of early Wednesday morning, Republicans appeared to be on track to grow their Senate power to a 19-15 majority.