While it’s far from a sure thing, I am feeling increasingly confident that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers will eke out a victory in November. Here’s why.
Let me deal with the headwinds first. It’s a mid-term election and mid-terms can be brutal for the party that controls the White House. Evers’ Democrats are likely to take a shellacking in House races and they could lose control of the Senate. It’s not a good year to be a Democrat and the governor will have to overcome that.
Second, Evers faces some troubling polling numbers. The most recent Marquette University Law School poll had his approval rating at 50%. That’s not great, but even more concerning is that, when asked about the overall direction of the state, only 39% said that we were headed in the right direction while 53% said we were going the wrong way.
But now comes the hopeful stuff.
First, Evers will not lack for funds. He’s already got over $10 million raised and Democrats have been vastly out-raising Republicans at both the state and national levels. This is a key race for the party and its donors will make sure Evers will not be outspent.
Second, Evers is lucky in his opponents. For a while it looked as if former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch was going to waltz to her party’s nomination. In fact, I couldn’t quite figure out why, after Glenn Youngkin won a surprise victory last November in Virginia, she wasn’t taking his cue and trying to cultivate a safe right-center image.
Well, enter state Rep. Timothy Ramthun (R-Campbellsport), who last month announced his candidacy for governor. Ramthun represents the not insubstantial bat-shit crazy wing of his party. Until recently an obscure backbencher, he has gained notoriety by being a leader of election denial. He recently introduced a measure that would withdraw Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes and reassign them to Donald Trump. Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) has called that, “illegal” and “just plain unconstitutional,” while state Sen. Kathy Bernier (R-Chippewa Falls) said it was, “the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of in my life.”
Even Assembly Speaker Robin Vos took the unusual step of stripping Ramthun of his lone staff member, but not because of his electoral vote silliness. Ramthun crossed Vos by claiming, without evidence, that the Speaker was working with attorneys for Hillary Clinton to allow voting drop boxes. So, Vos essentially penalized Ramthun for accusing him of doing something that would have made it easier for people to vote, not for trying to change the results of an election.
Those kinds of comments and actions ring like endorsements to the hard-right conspiracy mongers that make up a chunk of the Republican base. And, in fact, Trump himself has personally called Ramthun to urge him on while MyPillow founder and conspiracy theorist extraordinaire Mike Lindell has endorsed him. Ramthun joins ex-Marine Kevin Nicholson, who has big donors of his own, and claims to be running against his party’s “establishment.” Since Trump is the establishment, it’s not clear what he means, but you can pretty much bet that he’ll compete with Ramthun for the paranoid vote.
All of which is to say that it turns out that Kleefisch had reason not to follow Youngkin: she now has to hold on to some portion of the nuttiest part of her party. So, even if she does wrest the nomination from those two, she can only do so by matching them for scary talk, something that will put off persuadable voters in the fall.
I should note here that former Gov. Tommy Thompson, 80, has said he’s seriously considering getting into the race himself. I hope he doesn’t. I like Tommy and this is no longer his party. He probably can’t get the nomination, which speaks well of Thompson and is good news for Evers.
And, finally, there’s my third reason for predicting an Evers victory. It looks very likely that later this year the Supreme Court will overturn or gut Roe v. Wade. That leaves Evers as the only thing between Wisconsin women and some pretty draconian abortion restrictions. (There’s also a concern that existing, but currently moot, restrictions could go back into effect automatically if Roe is reversed, but that’s far from certain.)
What this means is that some nominally Democratic voters, who might otherwise sit out a midterm, will be fired up to vote, and suburban voters, who Joe Biden might only have rented in 2020, could vote Democratic again this year. This is an argument I truly regret having to make, but the sad truth is that a blow to Roe would be a boon to Evers and other Democrats.
All things considered, and even with the wind in his face, I’m going to bet on a second term for Tony Evers.
A version of this piece originally appeared in the March print edition of Isthmus.
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