The unknowns that remain for Tony Evers' reelection campaign

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- After Governor Tony Evers announced his bid for a second term, many questions remain about the future of his campaign, including whether or not he’ll have a new running mate on the ballot.

Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes has not ruled out joining the crowded Democratic field of candidates for U.S. Senate. During Democrats' virtual state convention over the weekend, Barnes told delegates he’s committed to helping reelect Tony Evers, but added “I’ll do everything in my power to make sure Democratic voters turnout to finally retire Ron Johnson.”

With Barnes still weighing his options, UW-Madison Political Science Professor David Canon said new challenges could emerge for the Evers campaign if Barnes decides to run for U.S. Senate.

“Any kind of change at the top of the ticket always will mean you have a new set of circumstances,” said Canon. “Clearly the best thing for the ticket is to keep that continuity, because they are already familiar with Wisconsin voters.” 

A top target of Democrats in 2022 is Senator Ron Johnson, who remains undecided on a third term. 

The Democratic field competing for Johnson’s seat includes State Treasurer Sara Godlewski, State Senator Chris Larson, Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, Milwaukee Bucks Senior VP Alex Lasry and Dr. Gillian Battio of Wausau. Milwaukee Entrepreneur Steven Olikara is also interested but has only announced an exploratory committee.

Another lingering question for the Evers campaign is which Republicans plan to challenge him. Part of the reason why no one has officially announced is likely because the Republican Party is watching closely to see what Sen. Johnson decides to do, Canon said. 

“If you have to pick between running against an incumbent governor and an open Senate seat, I’ve got to say the open Senate seat is more attractive in a lot of ways,” said Canon. “I think we won’t probably see a long list of Republican challengers against Evers until we know what’s happening in the Senate race.”

Republican strategist Brandon Scholz also said there’s still plenty of time for someone to announce a run against Evers. Fundraising also plays a factor, Scholz said, as the Democratic Party of Wisconsin outraised Wisconsin’s Republican Party by more than $14 million in 2020. 

“There is no sense to rush it when you have time to organize,” said Scholz. “It takes a while to put together a campaign and raise money, especially when you're not the incumbent, so for Republicans, it’s going to take some work.” 

Some Republicans who have expressed interest in the governor race include former Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, GOP lobbyist Bill McCoshen, and former Marine Kevin Nicholson. Newcomer Jonathan Wichmann is the only one who’s formally announced a bid.

Scholz said whoever enters the race, their biggest challenge will be unifying the party by bringing together longtime Republican voters and Trump supporters. 

“I think the candidate on the Republican side will be responsible for unifying those two sides and being Republicans together,” said Scholz. “It clearly will also have to be someone who’s well known throughout the state.”

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