By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker and his allies tried to change the chatter about his re-election campaign on Monday, as bad news continued to pile up for the two-term Republican incumbent.
The Republican Governors Association released a new attack ad against the governor’s Democratic opponent, Tony Evers, while Walker opened a new front in the campaign by tweeting that Evers, the state schools chief, hasn’t done enough to help ensure minority and white students do equally well in school.
Walker is on the ballot for the first time since his short-lived presidential run ended in September 2015. Viewed as a rising star in the Republican Party after he won a recall election in 2012, a victory that led to his presidential bid, Walker now finds himself in the political fight of his life.
Polls in the past month have shown Walker and Evers, a career school official, to be in a dead heat in Wisconsin, which is closely divided between Republicans and Democrats. But in a bad sign for Walker, the polls also show independent voters who have been critical to his narrow victories in the past are moving away from Walker.
Democrats see the midterm election, which comes after a string of Democratic election victories in the state and as polls suggest there’s a great deal of enthusiasm on the left, as their best chance ever to take out Walker.
There was a cascade of bad news for Walker over the weekend.
A third former Walker Cabinet secretary spoke out against the governor, saying Walker is not telling the truth about road projects. There were also reports about mounting legal costs to defend lawsuits by inmates at the state’s juvenile prison and increased scrutiny of Walker’s use of the state airplane, which critics say he’s exploiting for political gain.
On Monday, the Republican Governors Association tried to come to the rescue, releasing its first ad in a $5.7 million TV buy for the final two months of the race. The ad hits on a familiar theme for Walker and his allies, accusing Evers of not doing enough to revoke the license of a middle school teacher who viewed pornographic images on his school computer.
Evers’ spokeswoman, Britt Cudaback, said Walker was trying to draw attention from all the bad news, including a lengthy statement issued over the weekend by Mark Gottlieb, a former state representative who was Walker’s Transportation Department secretary from 2011 to 2017. In it, Gottlieb accused Walker of telling untruths about how decisions are made about what transportation projects are paid for in the state.
Gottlieb’s attack came after Walker suggested that the state could save money by not adding lanes when it rebuilds roads, a comment that drew praise from environmental groups that have warned for years about the overbuilding of highways.
Road budgets are a big subject of debate issue in the race. Evers has blamed Walker for not doing enough about the deteriorating condition of Wisconsin’s roads. Some Democrats, and even some of the governor’s former allies, have taken to referring to potholes as “Scott-Holes.”
Two other past Walker Cabinet members, former Corrections Secretary Ed Wall and Financial Institutions Secretary Peter Bildsten, have also spoken out against Walker in recent weeks and appeared in digital ads for Evers.
Bildsten, who was in Walker’s Cabinet from 2011 until early 2015, told The Associated Press on Monday that he wouldn’t be surprised if more former Walker allies came forward to oppose him. Bildsten accused Walker of paying attention mostly to his political future after the failed recall attempt in 2012, rather than trying to do what’s best for the state.
“Wisconsin is exhausted from this sort of divisiveness,” said Bildsten, who is semi-retired and plans to vote for Evers. “I think Wisconsin is ready for something different.”