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How Democrats toppled Gov. Scott Walker

Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, speaks during a campaign rally at Weldall Manufacturing in Waukesha on Monday, Nov. 5. Bloomberg photo by Daniel Acker

PEWAUKEE, Wis. — For months, Republican Gov. Scott Walker tried to warn supporters that his campaign was on shaky ground, to get out and knock on doors and vote, because the Far Left was riding a Blue Wave, and it was aimed right at him.

Voters in Wisconsin sunk his bid for a rare third term by a slim margin in favor of his Democratic opponent, the state's schools superintendent, Tony Evers, 67, leaving the future of a man once considered one of the brightest stars of the conservative GOP firmament uncertain.

After a wild night of vote changes, Evers finally declared victory about 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 7, but Walker did not concede — his camp warning of a long and possibly arduous recount. Instead, after the sun came up, he cryptically tweeted a Bible verse, Psalm 118:24, that said, "This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad."

Walker, 51, first elected in 2010, has been one of the most polarizing governors in the state's history, beginning with his first months in office when he rode an early clash with organized labor to fame and survived a heated recall campaign the following year. He's a hero to many conservatives, but voter after voter, especially teachers, will still say how angry and bitter they are about that union-busting episode.

Tuesday, younger, energetic Democrats, particularly in the "blue" urban areas around Milwaukee and the University of Wisconsin in Madison, turned out in large numbers to finally tip the balance against his traditional support in the red Milwaukee suburbs and Green Bay, according to Arnold Shober, an associate professor of government at Lawrence University. There were an estimated 6,000 more voters around Madison than in the previous governor's race, he said.

On Wednesday, a jubilant Evers said he was confident that his margin of victory — a final vote percentage of 50-48 percent and a difference of 29,000 votes — would stand.

"The amount of enthusiasm this campaign has generated has been really rewarding," Evers said in an interview. "It gives me great hope."

Evers is a former science teacher with a grandfatherly vibe, who traveled around the state in a yellow school bus in the days before the election. He lacked Walker's polish on the stump but was effective in calling out his opponent when Walker changed a key position on health care and mocking Walker's claim of being the "Education President" after he engaged in years of school budget cutbacks and ended teacher tenure.

"In some ways, Evers was the perfect candidate . . . he's had multiple statewide wins for an executive position, and he has also had to work with Walker, so he has been able to parlay that into effective attacks on the governor," Shober said. In the end, Walker's "programmatic, laserlike focus on fiscal conservatism" did not prevail, he noted.

On the stump, Walker had framed his argument for reelection around the state's burgeoning economy, touting Wisconsin's low unemployment rate - hovering around 3 percent - and strong wage growth. "If we get that message out," he told reporters after a campaign event in Appleton on Sunday, "we win."