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Josh Kaul declares a win over Eric Toney for another term as Wisconsin attorney general

Democrat Kaul far out-raised and out-spent his GOP opponent Toney

Attorney General Josh Kaul speaks in front of cameras.
Attorney General Josh Kaul speaks to reporters during a campaign event Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, in Middleton, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Democrat Josh Kaul has declared a win in his race for another term as Wisconsin’s attorney general after his Republican challenger Eric Toney conceded the race early Wednesday.

In a statement after 2 a.m. Wednesday, Kaul thanked Toney for a “hard-fought race” and wrote “I look forward to the work ahead of us as we continue to deliver results and work to build safer and stronger communities across the state.”

The Associated Press later called the race Wednesday afternoon with 50.6 percent of the votes in Kaul’s favor with an estimate 99 percent of the vote tallied.

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A spokesperson for Toney, who currently serves as Fond du Lac County’s District Attorney, confirmed shortly after 1 a.m. Wednesday that Toney conceded.

Just before midnight on election night, Kaul told supporters at the Overture Center in downtown Madison he was optimistic, but still waiting results. He emphasized that, no matter the outcome, Wisconsinites would need to come together to “heal our democracy.”

Josh Kaul addresses a crowd on the night of the midterm election, Nov. 8, 2022
Photo caption: Democrat Joshua Kaul, who’s seeking reelection as Wisconsin’s attorney general speaks at his watch part at the Overture Center in downtown Madison just before midnight on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022 as supporters await results. Sarah Lehr/WPR

“We have seen the kinds of attacks on our democracy over the last several years that we have not seen in this country before,” Kaul told the crowd. “Everybody in Wisconsin wants to live in a safe community. Everybody wants their family to have access to safe and clean drinking water. Everybody wants to ensure that they have access to affordable health insurance coverage, and across this state, people believe deeply in our democracy, and in maintaining the system of government that has made the United States the world’s greatest democracy.”

Kaul also referenced his administration’s legal battle to “restore safe and legal abortion,” a centerpiece of his campaign. The 41-year-old has promised not to enforce an 1849 law that bans abortions unless they’re done to save a pregnant person’s life.

A few days after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a nationwide right to abortion, Kaul’s Department of Justice sued in an attempt to block enforcement of that ban. The lawsuit, which argues the 1849 law conflicts with other Wisconsin laws passed later on, is still ongoing. Toney, a 38-year-old who was first elected as Fond du Lac County’s top prosecutor in 2012, has said he would enforce that law.

Throughout the campaign, Toney accused Kaul of mismanaging the DOJ. In particular, Toney focused on how, under Kaul’s tenure, state-run crime labs took longer on average to analyze certain types of evidence, including DNA.

Eric Toney stands in front of an audience with a microphone during a Republican event.
Republican attorney general candidate Eric Toney speaks during the 1st District GOP Fall Fest on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, at the Racine County Fairgrounds in Union Grove, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

During his first term, Kaul has been closely aligned with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who narrowly won another term Tuesday.

Evers’ Republican challenger Tim Michels conceded defeat just before 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, and the Associated Press later called the race jut before 1:15 a.m. with 51% of the vote in Evers’ favor.

Kaul backed Evers’ COVID-19 stay-at-home order and defended the Wisconsin Elections Commission from Republican lawsuits that sought to overturn the 2020 election results. And early this year, Evers and Kaul spearheaded an ongoing lawsuit against multiple companies over PFAS contamination.

At the same time, Kaul has clashed with the Republican-led Legislature since even before day one. After Kaul and Evers were elected in late 2018, lawmakers passed lame-duck laws designed to limit the power of the incoming governor and attorney general, both of whom were about to take office to replace Republicans.

Attorney General Josh Kaul
Attorney General Josh Kaul, left, greets lieutenant governor candidate Sara Rodriguez, right, during a campaign event Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, in Middleton, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Kaul has pledged to prosecute threats against election workers and has urged state lawmakers to pass stricter gun laws. That’s in contrast to Toney, who declined to call for tighter gun control during a debate last month, and instead said the focus should be on enforcing gun laws already on the books.

Heading into the election, Kaul had far out-raised and out-spent his Republican challenger. As of Oct. 24, Kaul’s campaign committee had taken in $3.3 million since the start of 2022, compared to only $775,570 raised by Toney’s campaign.

Prior to becoming attorney general, Kaul was a federal prosecutor in Baltimore before moving back to his home state of Wisconsin to work in private practice at the law firm Perkins Coie.

Kaul is the son of former Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, a Democrat who died in 2018.

Vote tallies across Wisconsin are unofficial until they’re certified in coming weeks.