Wisconsin gubernatorial campaigns hauling in massive funds

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin's Democratic Gov. Tony Evers raised $10 million last year, while his top Republican challenger brought in $3.3 million in just four months, massive fundraising totals announced Monday that point to how expensive and hard fought the race will be in the battleground state.

Evers released his fundraising totals just hours after Republican rival Rebecca Kleefisch, a former lieutenant governor, announced how much she raised since getting into the race in September.

Evers, who had $10.5 million on hand at the start of the year, stands as a block to the Republican-controlled state Legislature, and Democrats are desperate to keep him in place to stop the GOP agenda ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

Evers raised the most of any incumbent governor the year before they are on the ballot, his campaign said. And Kleefich’s initial haul is the largest for any candidate’s first report over the past four gubernatorial elections and likely ever.

The previous high over the last four cycles was $1.3 million reported by Republican Mark Neumann in 2010. Former Gov. Scott Walker raised $1.1 million over his first reporting period in 2009. A political action committee created to help Kleefisch, Freedom Wisconsin PAC, also reported raising $277,000.

Kleefisch served eight years as Walker’s lieutenant governor.

Kleefisch is the biggest-name Republican seeking to unseat Evers in November. Another Republican, 2018 U.S. Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson, is expected to get in the race soon.

Madison businessman Eric Hovde, who lost in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in 2012, told The Associated Press on Monday that he was “seriously evaluating” a run for governor and would decide within weeks.

Hovde said his background starting a financial firm and running a real estate business would contrast well with Kleefisch, who began her career as a television journalist before getting into politics and running for office for the first time in 2010.

Hovde, a millionaire with the ability to self-finance, was nonplussed about Kleefisch's fundraising totals.

“Good for her, but that would not have any impact on my decision making," he said.

Kleefisch’s high fundraising totals, along with her continued push to lock down Republican supporters, will serve as a deterrent to others who can't self-finance getting into the race. Nicholson benefitted from about $11 million in spending from GOP megadonor Richard Uihlein in his 2018 Senate run, where he was defeated by Leah Vukmir.

If Uihlein backs Nicholson again as expected, or if Hovde gets into the race, millions could be spent in the Republican primary before the winner on Aug. 9 moves on to face Evers.

Kleefisch’s campaign released only the total of what she raised and that donations came from nearly 7,000 people in all 72 Wisconsin counties. Evers received contributions from more than 32,000 donors over the year, but his campaign did not say how much of the money was raised by the Democratic Party and transferred to Evers’ account.

Reports showing details including who donated to all the candidates, how much they spent and how much money they had on hand at the end of the year are due on Jan. 18.