Tuesday’s gubernatorial election underscored that Republicans have an acute problem in Dane County and suburban Milwaukee.

And insiders say that is helping Dems overcome their eroding support in rural Wisconsin.

Tony Evers beat Tim Michels by 174,233 votes in deep blue Dane County, according to results posted at the clerk’s website. And he improved on his 2018 performance in all three WOW counties — Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington — in what had long been a GOP stronghold in the Milwaukee suburbs and exurbs.

And that more than offset the fact Evers fared worse than 2014 Dem guv nominee Mary Burke in 44 counties, many of them in rural areas. Burke lost her race to then-Gov. Scott Walker by 5.7 percentage points eight years ago despite beating Walker by 102,261 votes in Dane County.

Dane County has been a turnout machine for Dems in recent statewide elections, and it continued that run yesterday. The 174,233-vote margin Dane County gave Evers was more than the 171,686 votes it cast overall in the 2002 gubernatorial campaign.

Meanwhile, Michels underperformed Walker’s 2018 numbers in all three WOW counties as the GOP slide in the Milwaukee suburbs that began with Donald Trump continued.

Michels hit just 59.8 percent in Waukesha County, compared to the 66.1 percent of the vote Walker secured just four years ago. In Ozaukee County, Michels hit 55.1 percent, 7.6 percentage points worse than Walker. And in Washington County, Michels was at 68.6 percent, compared to Walker’s 72.2 percent.

Milwaukee County is another challenge for Republicans, even as turnout there continues to drop.

Evers beat Michels by more than 42 points in the state’s most populous county after winning it by 35 points four years ago. Dems ran up that margin even as the county produced fewer votes – 347,156 votes this year, compared to 393,877 four years ago. That’s a drop of 11.8 percent as the number of votes cast statewide was relatively stable.

Meanwhile, many rural Wisconsin counties have gotten redder since 2018.

Michels took 59.7 percent of the 3,334 votes cast in western Wisconsin’s Pepin County, compared to the 56.6 percent Walker took of the 3,163 cast four years ago. Next door in Buffalo County, Michels improved on Walker’s performance by 1.6 points to 59.3 percent.

But election watchers say there are just not enough votes in those rural areas to compensate for what’s happening in the state’s biggest urban areas.

Money also likely played a role in those results. According to AdImpact, Evers and the groups supporting him spent $56.9 million on paid media post-primary. Michels and those backing him spent $30.4 million.

In the Senate race, Ron Johnson has the money advantage, which could help explain why he performed better than Michels in key areas.

According to AdImpact, Johnson and those backing him dropped $77.5 million on paid media after the primary, compared to the $67.1 million spent by Dem Mandela Barnes and those supporting him.

Looking at key areas of the state, Barnes underperformed Evers by 4,762 votes in Dane County and 2,420 in Milwaukee County.

Meanwhile, Johnson overperformed Michels in the WOW counties by 8,976 votes and by 6,022 in the BOW counties — Brown, Outagamie and Winnebago.

Add in Barnes’ falling short of Evers outstate, and it helps explain the gap between the two races.

Barnes did 1,255 votes worse than Evers in central Wisconsin’s Marathon County, for example.

Insiders say that shows the key for Republicans is to cut into the disparity in Dane and Milwaukee counties, hit their marks in the Milwaukee suburbs and run up the score in rural Wisconsin.

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