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MADISON — The Wisconsin governor’s race got off to a fast start Wednesday with Republican Gov. Scott Walker proposing a trio of new tax cut proposals aimed at college graduates, seniors and working parents and Democratic challenger Tony Evers leaving all options on the table — including a gas tax hike or toll roads — to repair the state’s deteriorating roads.

Walker’s proposals, contained in a new TV ad, addressed many issues Democrats talked about during the primary — another sign Walker is trying to appeal to moderate voters. Evers responded by saying Walker “has all sorts of promises he hasn’t kept the last eight years. In fact he spent most of the time breaking those promises.”

In a statement issued by his campaign Wednesday, Walker called for a new tax credit of up to $5,000 over five years for college graduates who live and work in Wisconsin as a way to reduce student loan debt. Evers has called for a new statewide authority to help college graduates in the state refinance their student loan debt and new tax incentives to help retain college graduates, though he hasn’t offered specifics.

Walker also wants to provide a state child care tax credit of up to $6,000 per year per family to match the federal child care tax credit. Democrats introduced a bill last session to do something similar, but it never received a hearing in the Republican-led Legislature. Evers said during the primary he supported a state child care tax credit.

“That would be a huge break for working families,” Walker said Wednesday at his first campaign stop in Onalaska along with Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.

Walker also is calling for a tax credit to help senior citizens stay in their homes, though he didn’t provide specifics. The state already offers a homestead credit intended to do just that, though Walker and Republicans in the Legislature canceled indexing the credit to inflation in his first budget and eliminated it for non-disabled people under age 62 in his most recent budget.

Walker called for expanding youth apprenticeships to students in seventh and eighth grades, a proposal he previously mentioned in an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal when he declared himself a “pro-education governor.” Walker also plans to increase spending on technical education, though he didn’t specify by how much.

And Walker plans to continue the University of Wisconsin System tuition freeze for four more years. Evers, a member of the UW Board of Regents, said Wednesday he supports a tuition freeze if it is offset by additional state aid for higher education.

“Wisconsin’s on a roll. Lower taxes. More money in education. Record-low unemployment,” Walker says in his ad. “Together, we can keep Wisconsin working for generations to come.”

Walker doesn’t mention Evers in the ad, but in a fundraising appeal to donors Wednesday, Walker characterizes Evers as “a liberal Democrat who sides with union bosses.”

Asked by reporters whether he is a liberal, Evers said he is a Democrat, adding “whether it’s moderate, liberal, my issues are I think Wisconsin’s issues.”

“He can try to label me anything he wants, I have got all kinds of labels for him,” Evers said without elaborating.

Seeking positive message

Walker’s latest ad hits on many of the themes he explored in 13 previous TV ads he released during the primary, spending more than $2.3 million to drive home a positive message about his eight years in office.

Meanwhile a group funded by the Democratic Governors Association launched a $1.8 million TV ad campaign to boost Evers by characterizing Walker as one of the “politicians who only care about politics” and saying Evers will “keep working until our roads, schools and health care work for you.” The ad buy is on top of $3.7 million the DGA has reserved in the final five weeks of the election.

The Republican Party of Wisconsin launched its own $500,000 ad campaign on primary night targeting Evers’ decision not to revoke the license of a teacher who viewed pornographic images at school. Evers has said state law didn’t allow him to revoke the license, but that he subsequently supported a change in the law affecting such circumstances.

In Madison, asked about road funding, Evers said all options are on the table, including an increase in the gas tax, tolling and finding departmental efficiencies. Walker has ruled out a gas tax increase unless it is offset by tax cuts in other parts of the budget. A 2017 Transportation Development Association study ranked Wisconsin’s roads 49th in the nation, and state residents in interviews and surveys have complained about the condition of the state’s roads.

Walker won’t ask Trump

Walker and Evers began statewide tours Wednesday. Walker made stops in Onalaska, Eau Claire, Schofield, Green Bay and Waukesha, and Evers visited Madison, Appleton, Oshkosh, Waukesha and his home town of Plymouth. Evers also plans to stop in Milwaukee, Green Bay, Madison, Stevens Point and La Crosse on Thursday and Friday.

Walker is battling what increasingly looks like a Democratic surge in the Nov. 6 election. Democrats have already flipped two state Senate seats in special elections this year in traditionally Republican strongholds.

And on Tuesday night, with competitive primaries on both sides (for Republicans it was the U.S. Senate primary), the Democratic candidates for governor collectively received based on unofficial results 537,840 votes to the Republicans’ 455,966, including 417,619 for Walker, a possible sign of greater Democratic enthusiasm.

“The different vote totals in the two parties’ primaries are further evidence that Democrats are in the driver’s seat this election year,” UW-Madison political science professor Barry Burden said. “All signs are that Democratic voters are simply more energized this election year regardless of who the candidates are.”

Democrats have been turning out in large numbers in recent elections across the country, largely fueled by opposition to Republican President Donald Trump. Walker said he does not expect to ask Trump to campaign in Wisconsin on his behalf.

“The election is not going to be about who the president is. Whether you like him or don’t like him, it’s going to be about who the governor should be,” Walker said. “Voters are smart. They know the issues facing us are state issues, not federal issues.”

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The La Crosse Tribune contributed to this report.

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