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MADISON – Republicans won't know who their nominee for governor will be for five months, but they're already making plans to spend big to defeat Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.
The Republican Governors Association on Tuesday announced plans to book $6.2 million in television ads starting in September. That's a month after the Aug. 9 primary that will determine which Republican is going up against Evers.
The spending plans underscore what observers have long expected — an expensive fight for the top job in this battleground state. Democrats have not detailed their plans but are sure to spend heavily.
Already, the ad fights have begun. Last month the Wisconsin Initiative began running spots praising Evers for income tax cuts he approved last year. Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce shot back with a spot that emphasized Evers had proposed raising taxes before agreeing to cut them.
The Republican Governors Association hasn't said what its fall ads will focus on but signaled with digital ads last month that it may put a spotlight on crime. The digital ads criticized Evers for not saying how he would tackle rising crime rates during his State of the State address.
Three Republicans are seeking to challenge Evers — former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, management consultant Kevin Nicholson and state Rep. Timothy Ramthun of Campbellsport. In the short term, those candidates will need to concentrate their spending on winning the primary rather than attacking Evers.
Republicans worry that Evers will have a financial advantage that will allow him and his allies to spend heavily right after the primary, when the Republican nominee will have little cash.
Evers had $10.5 million in his campaign account as of January, more than four times as much as the $2.6 million Kleefisch had. Ramthun and Nicholson have not had to file campaign finance reports since getting in the race, but as of January Ramtnun had just $5,400 in his Assembly campaign account.
Nicholson has won backing from Richard Uihlein, a founder of Pleasant Prairie-based packaging company Uline Corp. Uihlein spent $10.7 million to help Nicholson in 2018, when he lost the Republican primary for U.S. Senate.
In the 2018 race for governor, eight Democrats sought to challenge Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Evers had little cash when he emerged from the primary, but a group set up by the Democratic Governors Association helped protect him by blasting out ads immediately after the primary.
Now, the situation is reversed, with Evers enjoying the powers of incumbency and Republicans scrambling in a primary.
Tuesday's announcement by the Republican Governors Association suggests the group might use a strategy similar to the one Democrats employed four years ago.
The Republican ads are to run Sept. 7 through Election Day in the Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, La Crosse and Wausau markets, according to the group. It described the $6.2 million ad buy as an initial plan that could change.
"The RGA is committed to investing in Wisconsin to ensure Americans know life is better when a Republican governor is in charge," said a statement from Dave Rexrode, the group's executive director.
Christina Amestoy, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Governors Association, said Wisconsin is a priority for her group but didn't disclose how much it might spend in the state.
"Protecting our Democratic incumbents is the DGA’s top priority and keeping Wisconsin blue is at the high on that list," she said by email. "We are ready and willing to make the smart, strategic investments needed to reelect Gov. Evers and his fellow Democratic governors."
Contact Patrick Marley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: GOP group pledges to spend $6 million targeting Tony Evers in fall election