Trump-Backed Michels Defeats Kleefisch for Wisconsin GOP Governor Nomination

·3 min read

Trump favorite Tim Michels defeated Pence pick former Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch for Wisconsin’s GOP governor nomination, escalating the intra-party feud between the former president and former vice president playing out in GOP primary races.

Michels, a multimillionaire construction tycoon, garnered 47.2 percent of the vote to Kleefisch’s 42 percent. Despite earning the support of former Governor Scott Walker, whom she served under, Kleefisch soon fell behind Michels, who secured Trump’s approval in the swing state and poured nearly $8 million of his own money into his campaign. Michels must now beat Democratic Governor Tony Evers in November.

“I’m here to say the American dream is still alive, and good people need to step up and run,” Michels declared at his campaign victory party in Waukesha, according to Wisconsin Public Radio. “We’re going to get an outsider, a businessman and a veteran in the governor’s office.”

Before announcing this bid, Michels spent many years outside the political arena after losing a Senate race by eleven points in 2004 against Democrat Russ Feingold. While Michels claimed he and his family are Wisconsin natives, over the last several years they spent considerable time in New York and Connecticut, where they have multi-million dollar properties and where their kids attended school. Michels has entertained Trump’s theories that the 2020 election was “stolen” due to widespread voter fraud and, in a June interview with WPR, wouldn’t commit to certifying Wisconsin’s presidential election results in 2024.

Kleefisch entered the race with a strong record in Wisconsin politics, earning support from GOP leadership in both houses of the state legislature. In addition to Pence and Walker, Iowa governor Kim Reynolds, Senator Ted Cruz, former U.N. ambassador, and South Carolina governor Nikki Haley also endorsed Kleefisch. On crime, gun rights, and abortion, she received the support of conservative state organizations and business groups behind these issues.

Like Arizona and Michigan, where populist candidates have triumphed in their primaries against more conventional Republicans, Wisconsin is another political stage that tested the potency of Trump’s endorsement. While some in the party have celebrated the rise of MAGA contenders and conservative innovators in state-level races, such as right-wing entrepreneur Blake Masters, who won Michigan’s Senate GOP primary, other cohorts fear they don’t appeal to a wide enough Republican voter base needed to win in November.

Democratic financial manipulation has also been play, propping these firebrand candidates up in the primaries in the hopes they will lose in the general election.

For instance, last week, Trump-backed John Gibbs was victorious against incumbent Peter Meijer, who voted to impeach Trump, in Michigan’s GOP primary for the third congressional district after the former received a half-a-million-dollar donation from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. In an ad sponsored by the DCCC, Gibbs was portrayed as “too conservative” for Michigan, getting him on TV for the first time in the race, elevating his profile among low-information voters.

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