Mike Pence visits Wisconsin two days before Trump to throw support behind Rebecca Kleefisch in GOP race for governor

WAUKESHA – The big surrogate struggle between former Vice President Mike Pence and Donald Trump accelerated Wednesday when Pence swooped into Wisconsin to stump for governor candidate Rebecca Kleefisch.

Pence praised Kleefisch as the best candidate to lead Wisconsin because of her long commitment to conservative values. His visit comes two days before Trump will headline a rally in Waukesha for Kleefisch's opponent in the tight race, Tim Michels. The winner in Tuesday's primary faces Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in November.

"There is no candidate for governor in America that is more capable, more experienced or a more proven conservative than Rebecca Kleefisch," Pence said. "I pray that we have a fresh start for leadership at the statehouse here in Wisconsin. And that when we win back our states, one at a time, we'll lay the foundation to win back America, soon after that."

More: Once the odds-on favorite, Rebecca Kleefisch is locked in a fierce GOP primary battle with Tim Michels

Flanked by Pence, former Gov. Scott Walker and a dozen members of Wisconsin's law enforcement community, Kleefisch said she's the candidate to turn around crime in the state.

Law enforcement officers including Waukesha County Sheriff Eric Severson, Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt, Columbia County Sheriff Roger Brandner and former Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales, who now heads the Fitchburg Police Department, talked about struggles with recruitment, fentanyl and overall increases in crime.

Several of the officers said the defund-the-police movement has hurt policing, and Kleefisch and Pence pledged to fully fund police.

Morales blamed the media for not painting a clear picture of what is happening in law enforcement and said judges have an agenda and the right people need to be in the U.S. Attorney's Office who are not "intimidated" by the judges.

"Their agenda has to be about the law, not about their personal crusades," Morales said. "When something appears to go wrong, and the momentum from the media starts pushing that something wrong happened, we have to speak up. That will bring us through different wormholes that we need to change law — and for one incident that happened that is one fraction of reality."

After the event, Kleefisch told reporters Wisconsin can't afford "sky-rocketing violence" anymore.

"I've made this a point and a pillar in my campaign, it's not just (law enforcement) pleas for their help, it's the pleas of the people of Wisconsin to help keep them safe after Tony Evers' lawless and failed leadership," Kleefisch said.

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Pence said he's enthusiastic about Kleefisch because she's already a national leader in the Republican Party.

"She's going to give voice to the concerns to the people in the heartland and in Wisconsin," Pence said. "I know she's going to help lead us back to a secure border."

Kleefisch has pledged to put 1,000 more cops on the street and fire Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm. Chisholm is an elected position, not appointed by the governor.

Kleefisch has been endorsed by the Wisconsin Fraternal Order of Police, Milwaukee Police Association­, Kenosha Professional Police Association, Wisconsin Firearm Owners Association and 40 Wisconsin sheriffs.

More: Assembly Speaker Robin Vos' refusal to decertify 2020 election pushes Donald Trump to endorse primary opponent

Corrinne Hess can be reached at chess@gannett.com. Follow her @corrihess

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Pence visits Wisconsin to throw support behind Kleefisch in GOP race