Five days before the midterm elections, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers shared a clear message Thursday with supporters about the importance of the Chippewa Valley to his chances of being Wisconsin’s next governor.

“If we win here, we win,” Evers told an enthusiastic crowd of more than 100 people crammed into The Cabin in UW-Eau Claire’s Davies Center.

Evers will square off with GOP Gov. Scott Walker in Tuesday’s election. A Marquette University Law School poll on Wednesday showed the race is a dead heat.

The Democratic candidate characterized the governor’s race as being about Wisconsin values and promised to try to bring people together after Walker’s divisive two terms.

“I look forward to uniting this state in a way it hasn’t been for eight years,” said Evers, who was joined at the campaign stop by several prominent Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, lieutenant governor candidate Mandela Barnes, state attorney general candidate Josh Kaul, 31st Senate District candidate Jeff Smith and 91st Assembly District candidate Jodi Emerson.

After rattling off his differences with Walker on a number of issues, Evers left supporters with an optimistic message.

“What we’re talking about are Wisconsin values,” Evers said. “Republicans want good schools as much as Democrats. ... They want to make sure they have good health care. ... I think they want to have good roads too. All those things are Wisconsin values, and Mandela and I and the rest of the Democrats that are running for office, they believe that too. That’s why it’s so important for us to have a positive vision for the future, and we’re bringing that home,+ and we’re going to win because of that.”

That doesn’t mean the gathering was free of criticism of Walker.

Education focus

Evers noted that the event was part of a six-day statewide school bus tour to contrast his pro-education agenda with Walker’s record of budget cuts for K-12 public education and the UW System, but Evers also used it to highlight the poor condition of state roads and bridges under the Walker administration.

“The suspension in the school bus isn’t exactly precise and we’re hitting every Scott-hole, I think, along the way,” Evers joked, eliciting laughs from the partisan crowd while calling attention to the shortfall in transportation funding that has been a key issue in the race.

Walker has attacked Evers in campaign ads for his openness to raising taxes to address the problem.

“The difference between Tony Evers and Scott Walker is the difference between talk and leadership,” Walker campaign spokesman Austin Altenburg said Thursday in a statement. “While Tony Evers makes empty promises and would raise property, income, and gas taxes by as much as $1-per-gallon, Scott Walker has actually lowered taxes on hard-working families.”

Asked about the Walker campaign’s assertions, Evers stressed that his tax plan calls for lowering state income taxes for 86 percent of Wisconsin residents. Regarding transportation funding, Evers said he would bring people together to find a solution.

“I would prefer not to raise the gas tax. I’m certainly not going to raise the gas tax by $1 a gallon,” Evers said. “No one believes that except Scott Walker.”

‘Unbelievable’

In response to Walker saying Thursday he would work to pass a state law with the “exact same language” that’s in the Affordable Care Act guaranteeing insurance for people with pre-existing conditions, Evers called the new promise “unbelievable” considering that the governor has directed Wisconsin to be part of a lawsuit trying to repeal the federal health care law.

“He’s still in court,” Evers said of Walker, a longtime opponent of the law often called Obamacare. “It’s just another distraction from his record.”

Kaul weighed in by saying, “Actions speak louder than words, and Scott Walker could withdraw from that lawsuit anytime.”

Altenburg, however, insisted that Walker consistently has made it clear that he would take immediate action to try to ensure coverage for those with pre-existing conditions if the Obamacare lawsuit is successful.

Evers also called attention to recent criticism of Walker by several former top officials in his administration — something highlighted in an Evers campaign ad released Thursday.

“Four of his former cabinet secretaries, his most loyal, vetted advisers, said this: He has no integrity, he’s unfit for office, he lies, and he puts his political visions ahead of the people of Wisconsin,” Evers said.

Students ‘excited’

Anna Schmidt, chairwoman of the UW-Eau Claire College Democrats, was pleased to see the strong turnout for Thursday’s event and a campus appearance earlier this week by Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin. The junior from Madison said she is optimistic the political energy she has seen among students — including an eagerness to pose for photos with Democratic candidates and post them on social media — will translate to support for Democrats in Tuesday’s election.

“Students are so excited. We are so amped about this election,” Schmidt told the crowd, “but now students have to show up and vote.”

Barnes joined the chorus of Democrats encouraging people to participate in the election and called Tuesday the most important midterm election in his lifetime.

“We want Wisconsin to be a place that’s open for all, not just open for business as Gov. Walker would have it,” Barnes said. “But we can’t change anything if we don’t vote.”