Republican gubernatorial nominee Tim Michels faces incumbent Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in November.
Tim Michels, a construction company owner endorsed by former President Donald Trump, won the Wisconsin Republican Party primary for governor on Tuesday night. The close race pitted Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who was backed by former Vice President Mike Pence and former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, against Michels, who ran as a self-proclaimed conservative outsider, and three other Republican candidates.
Michels will face incumbent Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in the general election in November.
Michels pledged during the primary that he would consider signing potential legislation that would decertify President Joe Biden's win in the 2020 election, a continuing fixation of Trump and his supporters, who insist the election was stolen from Trump. Kleefisch also said that the election was stolen, but was unwilling to say she supported decertification.
In his acceptance speech, the Republican nominee compared himself to Trump, saying that Trump's endorsement was "a tremendous validation of our meteoric rise in this campaign. He knows that we need to have new leadership in Madison, and he sees a lot of similarities. He didn't have to run for president, I don't have to run for governor. He wanted to drain the swamp, we found out it's a really big swamp, and I know that Madison needs firm executive leadership, and that's what I'm going to do as governor."
After the race was called for Michels, Kleefisch conceded and urged her supporters to rally around her opponent: "I urge you all to stay in the fight, because the fight now is truly against Tony Evers, and the liberals who want to take away our way of life."
Evers, who ran unopposed, has raised $10 million this year, a state fundraising record, according to the most recent campaign financial filings.
The Cook Political Report calls the race a toss-up, and Michels has the money to run a strong general election effort: Michels gave his primary campaign $12 million, and the Republican Governors Association says it will spend at least $6.2 million to unseat Evers.
A Michels victory would hand Republicans full control over the Legislature. The party holds 61 of the 99 seats in the Assembly, which is gerrymandered to such an extent that it is practically impossible for Democrats to gain a majority; it also holds a 4-3 majority on the state Supreme Court.
Evers has regularly vetoed bills passed by Republicans in the Legislature, including legislation that would have loosened gun safety laws, made it harder to vote, and cut unemployment insurance and Medicaid.
Michels told an interviewer that Wisconsin's law banning abortion without exceptions in cases of rape or incest, on the books since 1849, is "an exact mirror" of his own views, and insisted that science has "proven" that women who have abortions "carry that emotional baggage" for the rest of their lives. He says he supports so-called the "right to work" anti-union law, passed in Wisconsin under Walker, that prohibits requiring non-union workers to pay dues to unions that represent their workplaces.
Polling of registered voters in Wisconsin conducted by the Marquette University Law School in June found Evers leading Michels in a head-to-head race 48%-41%.
Wisconsin's contentious gubernatorial primary reflects a pattern being repeated across the country as Trump uses his popularity with the GOP base to endorse candidates in state races who side with him on matters he cares about, namely overturning the 2020 election results.
Kari Lake in Arizona and Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania were both endorsed by Trump, and both won their primary races against more established Republican candidates to become a Republican nominee for governor.
However, not all Trump's endorsees pulled off a win. Adam Steen, whom Trump endorsed in his primary race against incumbent Republican Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly Robin Vos, lost to Vos by a slim margin, winning 48.7% of the vote to Vos' 51.3%, according to preliminary results. Vos, who had launched an investigation by the Assembly of the 2020 election results at Trump's urging, angered Trump and his supporters when he refused to decertify the election.
Joe Zepecki, a Wisconsin-based Democratic political strategist, said that Trump's moves between now and November could spell trouble for Michels.
"What Republicans will have to deal with is the impact Trump might have here. His handpicked candidate just won a competitive race, his long shot candidate challenging Vos came up just short, and his legal situation makes it more likely that he'll do what every Republican strategist in the country doesn't want him to do and say he's running for president ahead of the midterms," Zepecki told the American Independent Foundation. "Trump could still cause a lot of trouble for Republicans this cycle."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.