MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Democratic Milwaukee businessman Andy Gronik is ending his campaign for governor.
Gronik announced on Thursday he was dropping out of the race. That leaves nine Democrats in the field looking to take on Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
Gronik got into the race nearly a year ago, in July 2017. A political newcomer, he was not able to break away from a crowded field of Democrats including current and former office holders.
He said in a statement that his run for governor had been the greatest journey of his life. He cited a Marquette University Law School poll released on Wednesday showing him with single-digit support, far behind the leader, state Superintendent Tony Evers.
Gronik did not immediately endorse another candidate, but encouraged Democrats to coalesce around someone they believe can beat Walker.
Also on Thursday, the former top official overseeing state prisons broke with Walker, his former boss, and endorsed the Democrat Tony Evers in the race for governor — an unusual step for a cabinet-level official.
Ed Wall’s endorsement, which was released to The Associated Press, came as just the latest salvo against the Walker administration from the former Department of Corrections secretary, who was fired from the state Justice Department in 2016.
By endorsing Evers, Wall is renewing his public criticism of Walker’s handling of an investigation into the Lincoln Hills juvenile prison, which stands about 30 miles north of Wausau. A tell-all book that Wall has written about his experiences working for the two-term Republican is due out in August.
Wall was responsible for running the juvenile prison when he served as Corrections Secretary from 2012 to 2016. He resigned after news of a federal investigation into troubles at the prison came to light. Wall has downplayed his role in the scandal.
Attorney General Brad Schimel’s top aide has questioned Wall’s credibility in the past, calling him a “failed DOC secretary” and alleging that Wall’s criticism of Walker and his administration was nothing more than retaliation for being fired.
Walker’s campaign spokesman and official spokeswoman did not immediately return messages seeking comment about Wall’s latest allegations and his endorsement of Evers.
In the campaign video for Evers, Wall repeats his claim that he presented Walker’s staff with more than one plan suggesting ways for improve the state’s prison system and was rebuffed.
“Scott Walker completely mismanaged the issues at Lincoln Hills,” Wall said in the video. “I thought Scott Walker would help us protect kids, but I was wrong.”
Wall alleges that Walker’s then-chief of staff had said that Walker was having trouble raising money because of stories casting Lincoln Hills in a bad light. Wall also contends that it was “strongly suggested” that no records concerning Lincoln Hills be drawn up so there would be no “paper trail.”
Wall declined comment to the AP on Thursday on anything beyond what was in his endorsement. In a statement provided by the Evers campaign, Wall said he was endorsing Evers “because we need a governor who is a true leader — an adult in the room, who unlike Scott Walker, will put Wisconsin before his own political ambitions.”
Walker signed a bill in March calling for the Lincoln Hills prison to be closed by 2021. Earlier this month Wisconsin prison officials ended a federal lawsuit by reaching a legal settlement that enacts widespread changes in disciplinary tactics at the prison.
After resigning as prison chief in 2016, Wall returned to work for the state Justice Department for two months before being fired for encouraging Walker’s chief of staff to shred public records.
Even though Wall’s anger at Walker has been known for months, his endorsement of a rival candidate from another party was nonetheless a highly unusual step for a former cabinet secretary to take. It comes as the latest attempt by Evers, the state superintendent of schools, to differentiate himself in the crowded field of Democrats running for governor.
Evers faces nine other Democrats in the primary, which will be decided on Aug. 14. Evers led the field of candidates in a Marquette University Law School poll released Wednesday, although 60 percent of the respondents said they didn’t know enough about any of the candidates to form an opinion.