MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker has conceded defeat to Democrat Tony Evers.
Walker says he called Evers on Wednesday to concede defeat. The two-term Republican incumbent had held off conceding because the race was so close, but his campaign decided Wednesday there were not enough votes in play to change the outcome.
Based on unofficial results, Evers won by about 31,000 votes.
Walker says in a statement that he offered the full support of his staff and Cabinet to Evers as he begins the transition.
Walker had expressed concern about 2,000 absentee ballots in Milwaukee that had been reconstructed due to errors or damage. But Walker’s campaign says in a statement that it determined there weren’t enough votes in question to change the outcome of the race.
Evers is slated to be sworn into office Jan. 7.
While Democrats had hopes of making headway in the Legislature, Republicans will remain in the majority with Evers as governor, setting up at least two years of divided government. That hasn’t happened in Wisconsin since 2008, when Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle was in office and Republicans controlled the Assembly with Democrats in charge of the Senate.
Walker’s defeat came amid record turnout for a midterm election in Wisconsin. More than 57 percent of the voting-age population — nearly 2.7 million people — cast ballots in the governor’s race. Walker’s loss was driven by massive turnout in the Democratic stronghold of Dane County, home to the state capital and University of Wisconsin main campus.
But he also did worse elsewhere compared to 2014 — namely in the conservative Milwaukee suburbs that are vital for Republicans in statewide races. Those counties also came out less for President Donald Trump in 2016 compared to Mitt Romney four years earlier.
Walker’s loss spells the end of what some called the “Cheesehead Revolution.” That described Walker, who ran for president in 2015, Rep. Paul Ryan’s ascendance to House speaker and Reince Preibus’ role as head of the Republican National Committee and, briefly, as Trump’s chief of staff.
Ryan is retiring at the end of this year, Reince left the White House last year and now Walker has lost.
The Walker loss comes after three previous wins — including a recall in 2012 — and Trump’s narrow victory in 2016, just shy of 23,000 votes.
After a recount in that race, Walker signed a state law allowing future recounts only when the loser is within 1 percentage point of the winner.
Walker’s campaign spokesman Brian Reisinger said Walker wants to investigate the Milwaukee ballots issue, see the official canvass of the vote and wait for military ballots to be counted “before any decision can be made.”
Counties have to start the vote canvass by Tuesday and they have until Nov. 20 to report the totals to the state, which then has until Dec. 3 to certify the results.
Meanwhile, Democrats exalted. People could be heard screaming and cheering outside the state Capitol shortly after the race was called. Evers told exuberant supporters at a Madison theater that he was “confident” in saying: “I’m going to be the next governor of the state of Wisconsin.”
The results are a steep fall for Walker, who just three years ago was an early front-runner in the GOP presidential primary. When Walker dropped out of that race, he focused on rebuilding his low approval ratings in Wisconsin.
Walker had promised that, if he won, his third term would be his last.