Heavy union support no doubt helped propel the labor favorite Mahlon Mitchell to his second-place finish in the primary election Tuesday but still left him far behind the frontrunner, state schools superintendent Tony Evers.
Mahlon Mitchell ended up on Tuesday with 16 percent of the votes cast in the Democratic primary for governor, according to official results reported by the Associated Press. That put him in second place but still far behind Evers, who took 224,544 votes, or 42 percent of the total cast.
Going into the election, Mitchell had the endorsements of Local 139 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, the Wisconsin chapter of the AFL-CIO and other large union groups. He also had their financial backing. Local 139, the largest construction union in the state, gave him $65,000 between November last year and July 30 this year. The national Laborer’ International Union of North America’s political-action committee gave Mitchell $86,000 on June 30.
But of the $727,399.06 Mitchell’s campaign reported having raised by June 30, most of it came from fire fighters unions, many of them from out of state.
Having lost the primary, Mitchell quickly threw his support behind Evers.
“Labor, elected officials, Wisconsinites, now is the time to come together and support our nominee @Tony4WI,” his campaign tweeted after the polls had closed on Tuesday. “Our common enemy is the division that @ScottWalker created. Let’s go out and get ‘em!”
As for Evers, he quickly turned his attention to trying to make the most of his background as a former teacher, superintendent and now state schools chief to do something no Democrat has been able to achieve in 28 years: beat Scott Walker.
Evers, a cancer survivor who refers to himself as the “progressive from Plymouth,” immediately found himself trailing behind Walker in fundraising and the target of an onslaught of television attack ads.
Walker is seeking a third term as governor after returning to Wisconsin following his failed run for president in 2016. The governor has long drawn support from the non-union side of the state’s construction industry.
John Mielke, president of the mostly non-union Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin, said: “Scott Walker has opened up more public projects to greater competition and done more to address the skills gap than any governor in the nation. Wisconsin needs to re-elect Scott Walker to continue his pro-jobs, pro-education agenda for the benefit of everyone in the state, including those in the construction industry.”
Wisconsin’s gubernatorial race will be a test for the Democrats who are trying to reclaim Wisconsin after years of Republican control. Walker, when he dropped out of the presidential race in 2015, initially called on his fellow Republicans to rally against Trump. Now, though, he counts himself among the president’s supporters.
Evers said on Tuesday that he will concentrate on priorities that are important to voters, like schools. Walker has tried to portray himself as an “education governor,” even though his signature legislative achievement in 2011 effectively ended collective bargaining for teachers and other public workers, and forced them to pay more for health care and benefits.
That law so angered teachers that many walked out of their classes to protest at the Capitol and helped organize an ultimately failed attempt to recall Walker from office. Evers joined the protests and signed the petition to recall Walker.
Since then, Walker has set more money aside for public schools. Even Evers praised Walker’s last budget, calling it “kid friendly.” Evers said he did that because Walker had adopted much of what Evers had proposed.
The Wisconsin Republican Party, in an attempt at sapping Evers of some of the strength he is perceived to get from his advocacy for schools, unleashed a new $500,000 television ad shortly after Evers’ victory attacking his handling of a teacher who had viewed pornographic material in the classroom, saying he hadn’t kept children safe. Evers didn’t revoke the teacher’s license.
Walker planned to hit the road on a tour of the state on Wednesday, bringing with him his proposed agenda for his third term. Chief among his achievements, he lists the state’s record-low unemployment rate and the more than $8 billion worth of tax reductions that have been enacted on his watch. Evers planned a series of news conferences before launching his own tour of the state on Thursday.
Walker, in elected office since 1993, has not lost since his first run for the Wisconsin Assembly as a 22-year-old in 1990, but he’s been warning supporters that they could get washed away in a so-called blue wave if they are complacent.
Democrats are optimistic that this year presents them with the best chance they’ve ever had to take out Walker, especially with their recent unexpected electoral successes in the state and the long-established fact that midterm elections tend not to favor the party that’s in control.
Walker starts the general election with a huge financial advantage. He had $4.8 million worth of cash on hand in August, whereas Evers had less than $160,000. But the Democratic Governors Association, which has been working behind the scenes to line up money and staff for the nominee, had already committed $3.8 million for advertising in the final five weeks of the general election.
The Republican Governors Association had reserved $5.7 million over the final nine weeks.
Evers, 66, has deep ties to the state. Born in the tiny town of Plymouth, he graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked as a teacher, elementary and high school principal, superintendent and regional administrator before joining the state education department in 2001. He’s been state superintendent, an elected officeholder, since 2009.
Evers is a loud opponent of taxpayer-financed private voucher schools, which Walker supports. He also argues for setting aside more money for public schools and backing the adoption of the Common Core academic standards.
Critics say he’s not done enough to help black students do as well in school as white students, is beholden to the status quo and doesn’t embrace alternatives like giving parents a taxpayer-funded voucher to send their children to private schools.
Evers is a survivor of esophageal cancer, which doctors told him he was cured of in 2012, after he had undergone extensive surgery in 2008 to remove his esophagus and part of his stomach. It’s a cancer that few people survive and that Evers has said he thought would kill him.
The Associated Press contributed to this articleFollow @TDR_WLJDan