MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Tony Evers were locked in a tight race Tuesday, with the governor's race too close to call hours after polls closed.
Evers was clinging to a narrow lead as Walker underperformed his totals from 2014 in several key Republican counties when he won a second term. Democrats were trying to defeat Walker in his fourth time on the ballot in eight years.
Walker himself had said his race against Evers, the state schools chief since 2009, was the toughest for governor in his career. Wisconsin is nearly evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, and President Donald Trump narrowly carried it in 2016.
Walker touted the state's strong economy and low unemployment, while Evers argued that Walker's budget cuts have hurt residents. The winner will also play a role in redistricting after the 2020 census, because the governor must sign off on new political boundary lines drawn by the Legislature.
After riding a tea-party wave and anti-union fervor into office in 2010, Walker successfully pushed to strip public employee unions of bargaining power in a state that first encoded such rights 50 years earlier. He later mounted an unsuccessful run in the 2016 presidential race.
In a third term, Walker promised to increase funding for education, cut more taxes, spend more money on roads and continue the university tuition freeze.
Evers , a 67-year-old cancer survivor and former teacher, campaigned on supporting the Affordable Care Act and its guarantees of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. He also promised to cut middle-class taxes by 10 percent, paid for by all-but repealing a manufacturing and agriculture tax credit program Walker enacted. Evers is also open to raising the gas tax to pay for road repair and construction, although he hasn't released a specific plan.
Walker, the 51-year-old son of a Baptist preacher , points to the state's record-low unemployment and tax cuts of $8 billion and said now is not the time to take a risk on Evers. Walker promised to make a host of tax cuts, increase funding for roads and schools, and continue a University of Wisconsin tuition freeze in a third term. He said that if elected to a third term, it would be his last as governor.
Sam Schmidt, 28, a West Allis accountant, said he voted for Walker on Tuesday because he likes what the governor has done to bring new jobs to the state.
"I'm a big fan of the Foxconn acquisition," Schmidt said, referring to the deal to get the Taiwan-based electronics giant to build a manufacturing plant in Wisconsin. "I heard that some of the Democratic nominees would've tried to shoot it down, and so that was a big deal in my vote. And I just liked how in previous years Scott Walker has balanced the budget, and I feel sometimes big cuts have to be made."
Steve Deminsky, a 66-year-old retired insurance worker from Sun Prairie, said two terms was enough. Deminsky, who described himself as a conservative-leaning independent, said he had voted for Walker in 2010, again in the 2011 recall and in 2014. But on Tuesday, he cast his ballot for Evers.
"I've had enough of Walker," he said. "I think his time is up. I'm not in favor of career politicians."
Walker has been warning for months that a blue wave could be coming, and polls leading up to the election showed a tight race. Walker has proven resilient in state elections before. In 2012, amid anger over his law that ended collective bargaining for most public workers, Walker became the first U.S. governor to survive a recall election. He went on to win re-election in 2014. But he's never had to run in a midterm with a Republican president.
Walker's stature among conservatives and his national profile skyrocketed after the union fight and the passage of a host of Republican priorities, including making Wisconsin a right-to-work state; implementing a voter ID law; expanding a private school voucher program statewide; freezing tuition at the University of Wisconsin; rejecting federal Medicaid expansion money under the Affordable Care Act; and restricting access to abortion.
Evers campaigned on renegotiating the deal Walker reached with Foxconn Technology Group that could result in paying $4 billion in state and local tax incentives for the potentially $10 billion project. Evers vowed to increase state funding on education, withdraw Wisconsin from a federal lawsuit seeking repeal of the Affordable Care Act and find a long-term funding solution for roads that may include a tax increase.