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Wis. Gov. Tony Evers wins re-election in a closely watched race against Republican businessman Tim Michels, NBC News projects

The race between Evers and Michels, a co-owner of a successful family pipeline construction company, had long been expected to be one of the closest contests in the country.

Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has won re-election to a second term, NBC News projects, narrowly defeating Republican businessman Tim Michels.

With 89% of precincts reporting, Evers had 50.9% of the vote, while Michels got 48%.

Shortly after NBC News called the race for Evers, Michels told supporters at his election night party in Milwaukee that he had conceded the race.

“Unfortunately, the math doesn’t add up," Michels said.

Evers' win keeps a Democrat in the top job in the crucial swing state for another four years and signals that voters there rejected a candidate, in Michels, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, despite political headwinds that made Evers one of the most vulnerable incumbent governors in the nation.

The race between Evers, who was elected in 2018, and Michels, a co-owner of a successful family pipeline construction company, had long been expected to be one of the closest contests in the country. Evers' victory will have major implications in the state for the future of abortion rights and elections. 

On those issues, as well as others like education, guns and criminal justice, the two candidates offered starkly different policies throughout the race.

In Wisconsin — where an 1849 state law banning abortion in almost all cases went back into effect after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June — the candidates’ competing visions on abortion was certain to have a direct impact on the ability of women to seek abortion health care in the state. 

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers celebrates victory in Madison on Wednesday.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers celebrates victory in Madison on Wednesday. Andy Manis / AP

Wisconsin’s 173-year-old law makes performing an abortion a felony, with doctors who perform the procedure facing up to six years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines. It makes an exception only to save the life of the woman — but not otherwise for her health or for a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest. 

Evers has repeatedly said that women should have the ability and the right to make decisions about their health care, including abortion, and has said he would grant clemency to anyone charged under the law.

Michels started his bid staunchly supporting the 1849 law, vowing that he would not soften his stance, only to do just that as the campaign wore on, changing his position to being in support of an abortion ban that includes exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

On election fraud, Evers has repeatedly said that the 2020 vote in the state was safe and secure and has frequently boasted of how he has vetoed numerous bills — and would continue to do so if he won re-election — supported by the GOP-led Legislature that aim to change the state’s election laws.

Michels, on the other hand, has repeated the false claim made by Trump and his supporters that the 2020 election in the state was rife with fraud. While he waffled at times, Michels said during the primary that he was open to efforts to decertify Biden’s win in the state, even though there is no legal vehicle under state or federal law to rescind a state’s electoral votes.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels waves during a rally hosted by former President Donald Trump in Waukesha, Wisc, on Aug. 5, 2022.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels at a rally hosted by former President Donald Trump in Waukesha, Wis., on Aug. 5. Scott Olson / Getty Images file

Democrats and experts have expressed concern that with Michels in charge, Republicans could successfully change the state’s election laws in a way that would help clear a path for Trump in a close 2024 presidential election in the state.

Throughout the campaign, Evers had hammered Michels as a puppet of Trump. Michels, meanwhile, repeatedly attempted to tie Evers to President Joe Biden, whose approval ratings have been underwater in the state, while also unleashing in the last weeks of the campaign a barrage of ads hammering Evers on rising crime in the state.

Evers and Michels had been running neck and neck for the entire the race.

The pivotal battleground of Wisconsin is among the states where Biden had his narrowest victories in 2020, winning by fewer than 21,000 votes.