Can Evers Win Again?

Last week featured two of the least surprising stories of the year. The UW picked Chris McIntosh to be its new Athletic Director and Gov. Tony Evers announced that he would run for reelection.

McIntosh has the job, despite getting some flack for being hired in a process that wasn’t inclusive enough. But, of course, Evers’ step is just the first one. He’s got no guarantee of employment beyond January, 2023 and I’d say the odds are no better than 50-50 that he gets a second term.

Here are some key questions:

Whose party has the worse brand?

More than ever, people are voting on party identification and, to a large extent, they’re voting against the other party’s brand. The candidate and his specific policies are less important than the standard he bears — and both standards are pretty tarnished. The Republicans are the party of Trump, insurrection and insurrection denial, QAnon and, just generally, crazy paranoia. The Democrats are the party of The Woke in all its intolerant and preachy manifestations as well as good old tax and spend, big government liberalism. Choose your poison.

Where do the WOW’s go?

The Milwaukee suburbs of Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties have been trending away from the party of Trump. Voters with higher education levels are turned off by the manic populism. But with Trump not on the 2022 ballot and with a more traditional candidate at the top of the ticket, like former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, will they return to the fold?

Gov. Tony Evers has a realistic shot at a second term.

Who gets blamed for inaction?

The deadlock between Evers and the Republican Legislature, controlled by Speaker Robin Vos, has stopped any meaningful state action on a host of issues, including infrastructure, unemployment insurance, climate change, education and a lot more. Unemployment is especially galling because Evers has proposed spending almost $80 million to fix a 1970’s era computer system that is a big part of the problem, and Republicans have rejected it. Yet, they continue to blame Evers for problems in the system. He can’t let them get away with that. Expect a whole lot of finger-pointing.

How important is education spending?

Evers continues to sell himself as the “education governor.” He has credibility on that topic, since he spent his career as an educator. But his solutions have been about pumping a lot more money into public education at all levels. There isn’t much in the way of policy beyond that. Meanwhile, Republicans have called Federal COVID relief spending on education and the Governor’s state proposals “obscene.” You gotta wonder about their messaging. A lot of things are obscene — massive tax cuts for the rich, just as an example. But, while just throwing a lot of money at the problem might not be the best way to go, is spending more money on our kids’ education “obscene?” Anyway, voters may well feel that making education a priority is something they like, but will they feel that just spending a lot of money, without other reforms, is enough?

How much will historic patterns matter?

Typically, the party out of power in an off year election, picks up seats. That gives the advantage to the Republicans. And, keep in mind, that Evers won in 2018 by only 30,000 votes. All things being equal, a generic Democrat running against a generic Republican probably loses. But, of course, all things are not equal. Evers remains fairly popular, with an approval rating that has been consistently above 50%, something Walker didn’t achieve over his eight years.

How much will personality matter?

Evers is not flashy and that’s good. He doesn’t rub people the wrong way. He won’t lose votes because of his personality. He comes off as a Wisconsin guy, though in a bookish sort of way as opposed to Tommy Thompson’s hale and hearty persona. His Republican opponent will almost certainly be younger and will cut a more dynamic figure. On the other hand, it’s hard to win the GOP nomination without demonstrating loyalty to Trump along with the denial of reality and conspiracy theories that trail in Trump’s wake. A good question is just how much damage Evers’ opponent will have to do to their own image just to secure the nomination.

I have been burned enough in making political predictions to avoid them. The furthest I’ll go is to say that Evers has a fair shot at a second term and, in a year that should favor Republicans, that’s a good start for him.

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