Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Will Evers Run for Second Term?

He’s had no time to think about that, he says. Why his reelection won’t be easy.

By - Oct 19th, 2020 11:13 am
Tony Evers. Photo by Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Tony Evers. Photo by Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Run for a second term?

Democratic Gov Tony Evers hasn’t had time to discuss that with his wife Kathy and campaign advisers, even though he is only weeks away from the midway point of the four-year term he won in 2018.

Too many other crises have crowded out any thoughts of a re-election bid: Fights with Republican legislators and courts in Wisconsin and Washington, D.C. Fighting a recall petition. Pleas for Wisconsin residents to wear face masks, stay home and stay six feet apart when they leave home as the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths set daily records. And, as a cancer survivor who will turn 69 on Nov 5, being confined to a five-person bubble for his safety.

“We have way too many things to worry about, rather than a second term,” Evers said in a WisconsinEye interview last week.

“I give myself an ‘incomplete,’ because we’re still working on the first term,” added the former science teacher, school administrator and state superintendent of schools.

Asked what criteria he and his family will use to decide whether to run again, Evers said, “What we can accomplish in the future” and “how it’s going to impact our personal lives.”

Evers said accomplishments in the first two years were more funding for K-12 schools, highways and health care – but “not to the level we want.” Republican legislative leaders have refused the governor’s calls to use federal dollars to expand Medicaid for more middle-income residents.

“The pandemic really has stretched everybody to the limit,” he added. “Hopefully, we’ll be making better progress.”

Evers said his next major legislative goal is “fair maps” — drawing Congressional and legislative district lines that don’t give either party an advantage in 2022 elections. Legislative lines drawn in 2011 by Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators guaranteed GOP control of the Legislature for a decade.

Asked how he feels about the job of governor, Evers said: “I love it. There’s plenty of frustrations, but I am continually emboldened and thankful for the resiliency of the people of Wisconsin, Republicans and Democrats. We’ve put up with a lot.”

State Ethics Commission reports show the Evers campaign, Tony for Wisconsin, had $1.6 million on hand July 1. That’s a respectable amount, but the Evers campaign spent $10.3 million beating Walker in 2018, not including help from third-party groups.

Last week, the governor’s campaign began running an ad defending how he has handled the pandemic and denouncing Republican legislators for doing all they could to hinder those efforts. The ad aims to help Democratic candidates in Nov. 3 and fend off a recall petition.

The governor’s fund-raising efforts this year targeted Democratic candidates for the Legislature, so Republicans will not elect two-thirds majorities in both Assembly and Senate that would let them override Evers vetoes in the 2021-22 session. That session will draw new Congressional and legislative district maps Evers may have to veto.

So far, Republican Rebecca Kleefisch, who served two terms as Walker’s lieutenant governor, is the most organized GOP candidate for governor in 2022. She has recruited Assembly candidates, formed a political action committee to donate to GOP causes and started a nonprofit think tank to generate a platform for her campaign.

One veteran political science professor, UW-Madison’s Barry Burden, called the challenges of a second-term bid by Evers “daunting.”

“Evers won by a narrow margin of just 29,000 votes in 2018 — a year that was quite favorable to the Democrats, and where they managed to win all five statewide races,” Burden explained, adding:

“Building on that slim victory in a narrowly divided state is not easy. Public perceptions of how Evers has handled the pandemic will be crucial to his odds of re-election. His overall job approval rating remains positive and attitudes about his handling of the pandemic is even more positive.”

But: “It is difficult to know what the next two years will bring in terms of public health and the economy.”

And, Burden said, whoever is elected President could play a large role in an Evers re-election campaign.

Why? “Voters in Wisconsin gubernatorial elections tend to favor the party that is out of the White House. It is no coincidence that voters went for Evers as a counter-balance to the Trump administration, Walker won twice as a response to the Obama administration, and (Democratic Gov. Jim) Doyle won twice while Bush was in office,” Burden said.

“Although Evers is eagerly supporting the Biden campaign, his re-election chances might actually be harmed if Biden is successful.”

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. Contact him at

One thought on “The State of Politics: Will Evers Run for Second Term?”

  1. steenwyr says:

    … Rebecca Kleefisch … started a nonprofit think tank to generate a platform for her campaign.

    LOL, cause we all know she couldn’t come up with any real ideas on her own and instead would just carry water for the corporate backers seeking to destroy what’s left of the middle in WI.

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