Trump-backed Michels wins Republican primary in Wisconsin

Morry Gash/AP Photo
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Republican businessman Tim Michels has won the Wisconsin GOP gubernatorial primary, setting up one of the most competitive governor races of the year and capping off another primary proxy battle between former President Donald Trump and forces including former Vice President Mike Pence.

The primary between Trump-endorsed Michels and former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who has the support of both Pence and former Gov. Scott Walker, was just the latest clash between Trump and in-state GOP power networks. Michels will face Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in November, in what is expected to be a highly competitive governor race in the battleground state.

The Wisconsin gubernatorial primary was the headline election across four states Tuesday. But another blockbuster popped up in Minnesota, where Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar squeaked by a tight primary in her Minneapolis-based district.

Connecticut and Vermont also held primaries Tuesday, while Minnesota hosted a red-leaning special House election in addition to its primary — the latest test of the political environment in the post-Roe v. Wade era, which appears to show Democrats getting a boost even as Republicans held the seat.

Meanwhile, Vermont Democrats are getting ready to send a woman to Congress for the first time in state history. Another big Democratic primary on Tuesday turned into more of a formality when Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes' rivals dropped out of the Senate race and endorsed him to take on GOP Sen. Ron Johnson in the fall.

Here is the latest from Tuesday.

Trump tries to remake Wisconsin in his own image

The race between Kleefisch and Michels had been a contentious one, with the two candidates battling it out for the right to face Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in a key November race.

Kleefisch was seen as an early favorite for the GOP nod until Michels’ late entry into the race. Michels’ self-funding, combined with the former president’s backing, turned the race competitive.

Trump’s intervention mirrored other previous Republican gubernatorial primaries, in which the former president looked to upend in-state GOP power structures, like when he unsuccessfully campaigned against Gov. Brian Kemp in Georgia. In Arizona last week, Trump’s pick for governor, former TV anchor Kari Lake, beat out Karrin Taylor Robson, who had the support of both outgoing GOP Gov. Doug Ducey — the co-chair of the Republican Governors Association — and Pence. (Ducey eventually endorsed Lake.)

Trump also targeted Wisconsin state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, backing a primary challenger running against one of the most influential state legislative leaders in the country. Trump has been angered by Vos’ refusal to push for “decertifying” the 2020 election results — a legally impossible notion that has nevertheless gained traction on the right — even as Vos has led the state legislature in funding an investigation into the state’s elections. Vos scored a narrow win Tuesday night.

Trump also squared off with the local GOP in Connecticut’s Senate race — and won. There, the state party backed former state House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, a moderate who said she did not vote for Trump in 2020, while Trump swooped in with a late endorsement for victorious RNC Committeemember Leora Levy.

Minnesota fills a vacant House seat

Minnesota voters in a red-leaning district picked former state Rep. Brad Finstad, the Republican nominee, to fill the final months of the late GOP Rep. Jim Hagedorn’s term, in a test of the political environment following the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision on abortion in June.

Finstad built a 4-point edge over the Democratic nominee, former Hormel Foods CEO Jeff Ettinger, in a district Trump carried by 9 points in 2020.

That shift in the margin against the presidential baseline could be an early sign of how voters’ reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling is translating to candidates. Last week, Kansas voters overwhelmingly rejected a state constitutional amendment that would have cleared the way for new abortion restrictions there. But it remains an open question how strongly voters will consider abortion as they make their picks for elected offices.

Ettinger, who self-funded his campaign, also outspent Finstad by a significant margin.

Elsewhere in Minnesota, voters finalized a matchup between Democratic Gov. Tim Walz and former Republican state Sen. Scott Jensen, who only faced nominal opposition in his primary in a state Republicans argued could be a sleeper battleground race.

The GOP also elevated Kim Crockett, an activist who has questioned the results of the 2020 elections, to face Democratic Secretary of State Steve Simon.

Omar fends off a primary challenger

Omar, who as a member of "The Squad" is among one of the most well-known members of the House, won a surprisingly tight primary in her district against Don Samuels, a former Minneapolis city council member.

Samuels raised more than $1 million for his bid, and outraised the incumbent this year. She was able to beat back a well-funded primary challenger by 20 points in 2020. Pro-Israel outside groups tried to boost her challenger last cycle, but largely sat out this race.

Omar is the heavy favorite in this deep blue district in November.

Vermont prepares to send its first woman to Washington

Vermont is the lone state to never yet send a woman to Congress, but voters took a big step toward changing that Tuesday. The leading contenders for the Democratic nomination in the state’s open at-large House seat to replace Rep. Peter Welch — who locked up the Democratic nod for Senate on Tuesday — were both women, and state Senate President Becca Balint ended up winning the primary. She will be heavily favored in November.

Voters pick candidates in a handful of key House districts

Some of the biggest November House battlegrounds have relatively sleepy primaries on Tuesday. In Minnesota, Democratic Rep. Angie Craig and Republican Tyler Kistner are both preparing for a general election rematch, after Craig narrowly beat Kistner in 2020. And two reach seats for Republicans in Connecticut — to challenge Democratic Reps. Jahana Hayes and Joe Courtney — have no-drama, unopposed primaries Tuesday as well.

One contest to watch is the Democratic primary to replace the retiring Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.). Three Democrats — Deb McGrath, Brad Pfaff and Rebecca Cooke — are competing for the nomination to face Republican Derrick Van Orden, whom Kind beat by about 3 points in 2020, in a district that the GOP views as one of its best pickup opportunities of the year. Pfaff led early Wednesday morning.