Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Evers Raises Cash for Reelection Bid

He has $3.3 million on hand, wants more. But is he definitely running for reelection?

By - Apr 5th, 2021 11:54 am
Tony Evers. File photo by Michael Horne.

Tony Evers. File photo by Michael Horne.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers sounded like he plans to run again next year in a recent fund-raising appeal.

“We have defeated the GOP and far-right extremism before. I need your help to do it again!” the Evers campaign said in a pitch to raise $35,000 by last Thursday’s deadline to report campaign cash.

“A recent poll showed us up only one point against a generic Republican candidate. So now the GOP and their right-wing, special interests backers will do anything and everything they can to weaken us.”

In a separate plea for cash, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes explained what the campaign means both to him and citizens who get left behind: “Throughout my life, I’ve seen how entire neighborhoods and towns can be written off, left behind, and denied opportunities and investments due to system racism and injustice…Zip codes like the [Milwaukee] one I grew up in weren’t built to be runnable, walkable or bikeable.”

Barnes added, “We’re facing our first quarter Federal Election Commission deadline of 2021, and I’m counting on grassroots supporters…to put up BIG numbers.”

State Ethics Commission reports show the Tony for Wisconsin campaign fund had $3.3 million on hand as of January 1.

The Evers and Barnes campaigns spent a total of $10.8 million in 2018, when they beat Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who spent a combined $36.2 million, according to Wisconsin Democracy Campaign totals. All spending, including by third-party groups, totaled a record $93 million in that race.

Kleefisch is the best organized Republican expected to run against Evers. She formed a non-profit think tank, the 1848 Project, to develop issues, helped recruit dozens of Republican candidates for the Legislature and her PAC gave those candidates $121,000 last year.

But Reince Priebus, President Donald Trump’s former chief of staff and an ex-state Republican Party chairman, is “seriously considering” running for governor, Evers warned in his pitch for cash. It didn’t mention Kleefisch.

Last week, Bill McCoshen, a Capitol lobbyist and former top adviser to Gov. Tommy Thompson, told the Conservative Digest he also plans to run for governor.

The Evers campaign said it knows campaign contributors may be weary from “a long, consequential” race for President, when President Joe Biden edged Trump in Wisconsin by less than 1% of the vote. “But the GOP has not missed a beat…The Republican Party is energized.”

Wisconsin Democrats often make campaign announcements in August. Then superintendent of public instruction, Evers announced his run for governor in August 2017; former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle announced that he would not seek a third term in August 2009.

If Evers, a cancer survivor who will turn 70 on Nov. 5, decides not to seek re-election, he may want to give others — including the 34-year-old Barnes and some of those who ran in the 2018 Democratic primary — a chance to organize before August.

Challenged at every turn — in the Legislature and in the Supreme Court — by Republican-leaning leaders, and then by the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 6,600 Wisconsin residents and choked the state’s economy, Evers has had a rough first two years in office.

Last year, however, he handed out $2 billion in federal pandemic-relief cash to revitalize the state’s economy and pay health-care bills. And, last week, he vetoed the latest move by Republican legislators to give them oversight over how the next $3.2 billion in economic stimulus cash from Washington will be spent.

After a slow start, Evers also takes credit for getting 2.9 million COVID-19 vaccines into the arms of Wisconsin residents.

He also approved plans for a $405-million Ho-Chunk Nation casino in Beloit, which could be under construction next year. Evers got 58% of the vote in Rock County, where Beloit is located, in the 2018 race for governor.

But the proposed $91.2 billion state budget — a 9.8% increase  — released by Evers is a target-rich environment for Republican candidates. It was full of new and expanded programs Republicans either hate or have spent the last 10 years repealing, including; Giving public employees the right to again collectively bargain. Repealing the right-to-work law. Income limits for families participating in School Choice. Letting large cities add a 0.5% sales tax. Gun sales background checks. A “red flag” law that would let judges take guns away from individuals found to be dangerous. Legalizing recreational marijuana.

How will voters feel about these proposals? Kleefisch has no doubt about that.

“Evers is out of touch with regular Wisconsinites,” she declared.

Steven Walters has covered the Capitol since 1988. Contact him at

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