Former President Donald Trump and his one-time second-in-command, Mike Pence, are lined up on opposite sides of a contentious GOP gubernatorial primary that pits the former president against much of the state’s Republican machine.
It’s the same dynamic this week in Wisconsin as last week in Arizona. Now, Trump-backed businessman Tim Michels and former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch are locked in a tight battle ahead of Tuesday’s primary to face Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, in November.
Kleefisch not only has the support of Pence, but of former Gov. Scott Walker, her former boss. And in another primary, Trump is also targeting state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, the powerful and long-tenured state legislative leader who blessed a partisan investigation of the 2020 election, over Vos’ refusal to entertain the fanciful and legally impossible notion of “decertifying” the 2020 results.
The Wisconsin primaries highlight an action-packed slate of elections that include a special election for a red-leaning House seat in Minnesota and the primary for an open House seat in Vermont, where dueling wings in the Democratic Party are competing to send the state’s first woman to Congress.
Here is what to watch on Tuesday.
Competing wings of GOP clash in Wisconsin
The Republican primary for the right to face Evers has been a contentious one.
Kleefisch had been seen as the nominee-in-waiting. But Michels’ relatively late entry to the race, powered by his self-funding and then by Trump’s endorsement, quickly turned the race hypercompetitive.
Kleefisch has backing from traditional Republican power centers in the state, including Walker and Vos. But Trump made a late bid to back Michels, a businessman who lost to Democrat Russ Feingold in a 2004 Senate race, and the former president attacked Kleefisch from the stage at a rally in southeastern Wisconsin late last week.
(Trump had been bothered by a picture he saw of the teenaged children of Kleefisch and state Supreme Court Justice Brian Hagedorn attending prom together, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Hagedorn is a conservative who sided with the court’s liberals on various 2020 election-related cases.)
Another big contest in the state features a Trump-backed candidate challenging Vos, an incredibly powerful figure in Wisconsin politics. Despite Vos’ moves to fund an investigation into the 2020 election in the state, his unwillingness to entertain “decertifying” the election — a popular rallying cry on the right which is not legally possible — earned Trump’s enmity.
In an eleventh-hour twist, Michael Gableman — the former state Supreme Court justice that Vos hired to run that investigation — also backed Adam Steen, Vos’ challenger.
The Trump-versus-local Republicans dynamic is also on display Tuesday in Connecticut, where the Republican contest to face Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) features former state House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, who won the state party’s endorsement, and Trump-backed Republican National Committee Member Leora Levy.
Back in Wisconsin, the Democratic primary in the state to challenge Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, meanwhile, has been stripped of any last-minute uncertainty. All the major Democratic candidates ended their campaigns and endorsed Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes over the last month.
A special election test
Minnesota will host a special election Tuesday to fill the seat of the late GOP Rep. Jim Hagedorn, one in a series of August special House elections following the blockbuster Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade in June.
Former state Rep. Brad Finstad, a moderate backed by the Republican Main Street Partnership and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is taking on former Hormel Foods CEO Jeff Ettinger. Thanks to some self-funding, Ettinger has outspent Finstad, $1.2 million to $508,000, as of late July. But Republicans are favored to hold this southern district, which Trump carried by 9 points in 2020.
Voters in Kansas last week overwhelmingly rejected a state constitutional amendment that would have cleared the way to new restrictions on abortion in the state, which Democratic operatives pointed to as a clear sign abortion policy could be a motivating factor in the midterms.
But it is uncertain how much voters’ preferences on abortion politics will translate to the battle for Congress, and the margin in Minnesota could provide a new datapoint about the state of the post-Dobbs political environment.
Vermont’s glass ceiling moment
Vermont is the only state in the country that has never sent a woman to Congress. That’s about to change. The two leading Democrats in the race for the at-large district are Lt. Gov. Molly Gray and state Senate President Becca Balint. Scant public polling has given the Bernie Sanders-endorsed Balint an edge, and a Democrat is heavily favored to win in the fall in this liberal bastion.
The last few all-male congressional holdouts have fallen in just the past few years. In 2018, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) was appointed to her seat and was later elected to a full term. Two years earlier, Delaware broke its all-male streak when it sent Democratic Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester to the House.
What took Vermonters so long to elect a woman? The state has a long history of men holding its at-large seat for decade-long stretches. The seat is open because Democratic Rep. Peter Welch, first elected in 2006, is running to succeed retiring Sen. Patrick Leahy, who has held his seat since 1974.
Setting up the House battleground
Both parties will tap nominees in some of the competitive House races in the country. In retiring Rep. Ron Kind’s (D-Wis.) district, three Democrats — Deb McGrath, Brad Pfaff and Rebecca Cooke — are vying for the nomination. One of them will face Derrick Van Orden, the 2020 GOP nominee, in a top Republican target district.
In Minnesota, Democratic Rep. Angie Craig is gearing up for a rematch in the Twin Cities suburbs against Republican Tyler Kistner, after winning by 2 points in 2020.
Republicans will finalize a pair of potential battleground matchups in Connecticut. Former GOP state Sen. George Logan is uncontested in his race to face Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.). And state Rep. Mike France is also running unopposed to take on Democratic Rep. Joe Courtney. Biden carried both seats by double-digits in 2020, but Republicans are increasingly optimistic about contesting at least one of them.
Other statewide contests of note
Connecticut is home to some under-the-radar statewide elections. Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont and Republican Bob Stefanowski are headed for a rematch of their 2018 contest, which Lamont won narrowly. Groups backed by both the Democratic and Republican Governors Associations recently disclosed sizable ad buys in the state.
Both parties will also be nominating candidates to be the state’s chief election officer. Now-former Democratic Secretary of State Denise Merrill had previously announced she would not seek another term, and she retired early earlier this year to care for her husband.
Tuesday’s primaries in Minnesota, meanwhile, will finalize a match-up between Democratic Gov. Tim Walz and former Republican state Sen. Scott Jensen, a race Republicans have argued could be a sleeper in November. Republicans also seem poised to nominate Kim Crockett, an activist who called the 2020 election “a train wreck,” to face Democratic Secretary of State Steve Simon in November.