(Headline USA) Voters will choose a Republican nominee for Wisconsin governor on Tuesday who could reshape how elections are conducted in the marquee battleground, which found itself at the forefront of allegations of irregularities and impropriety during the 2020 election.
Former President Donald Trump has endorsed businessman Tim Michels, a self-described outsider who has put $12 million into his own campaign, against former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.
Kleefisch has support from former Vice President Mike Pence and ex-Gov. Scott Walker. Both candidates falsely claim the 2020 election was rigged, though Kleefisch has said decertifying the results is “not constitutional,” while Michels said “everything will be on the table.”
The race to face Democratic Gov. Tony Evers is another proxy war between Trump and Pence, one-time partners now pursuing different futures for the Republican Party.
They also backed opposing GOP rivals in primaries in Arizona and Georgia—swing states that, like Wisconsin, are expected to be critical in the 2024 presidential race, when both men could be on the ballot.
In the state’s Senate race, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes is the likely Democratic nominee to face Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, one of Trump’s most vocal supporters, after Barnes’ top rivals dropped out of the race late last month.
Trump also has backed a little-known challenger to the state’s most powerful Republican, state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who has rejected the former president’s pressure to decertify the 2020 results.
Tuesday’s outcomes have far-reaching consequences beyond Wisconsin, a state that is almost evenly split between Republicans and Democrats and where 2022 will be seen as a bellwether for the 2024 presidential race.
The person elected governor this fall will be in office for the presidential election and will be able to sign or veto changes to election laws passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature. The next governor and U.S. senator also may sway decisions on issues from abortion to education and taxes.
“We’re a 50–50 state and so every race in Wisconsin, just by definition, is going to be decided by a few percentage points one way or another,” said former Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat. “And those few percentage points in Wisconsin may well determine what the course of the nation is in the coming years.”
Vermont—the only state to never have a woman in its congressional delegation—is likely to nominate a woman for the state’s lone House seat. The winner will replace Rep. Peter Welch, who is vying for the seat held for over four decades by Sen. Patrick Leahy, who is retiring.
And in Connecticut, Republicans will pick opponents to face two-term Democratic Sen. Richard “Da Nang Dick” Blumenthal.
But the most-watched races will be in Wisconsin, where Trump has kept up his pressure campaign to cancel President Joe Biden’s 2020 “victory.”
Biden won by nearly 21,000 votes, four years after Trump also narrowly won the state by roughly the same margin.
Under Vos, the state Legislature has conducted two partial recounts: a nonpartisan audit and a review by a conservative law firm and multiple lawsuits. The reviews yielded several shocking discoveries, including the widespread abuse of absentee ballots in nursing homes, first highlighted by Racine County.
A special-counsel investigation by former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman exposed the fact that election offices in several large cities, including Green Bay, had been infiltrated by leftist political opperatives lined to George Soros and funded through grants by the supposedly nonpartisan Center for Tech and Civic Life.
Run by a former Obama surrogate, CTCL was established by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg under the pretense of providing pandemic protective equipment and assisting with safety protocols. Instead, it put most of its money into get-out-the-vote efforts in urban areas, including the installment of unmanned ballot drop-boxes.
Questions linger for many about the suspicious ballot counting that took place in Milwaukee, where late-night arrivals after 3 a.m. on the morning of Nov. 4, 2020, gave Biden the edge to overcome a substantial Trump lead. The election officials in blue-run cities largely refused to cooperate with the auditors.
Both Michels and Kleefisch have said overturning the 2020 election results is not a priority given the fact that Biden already has been installed as president.
But they have said they would dismantle the bipartisan commission that runs Wisconsin elections and would support prohibitions on voters having someone else turn in their absentee ballots, as well as ballot drop-boxes located anywhere other than staffed clerk offices.
Evers has claimed baselessly that he’s the only candidate who will defend democracy and “we are that close to not having our vote count in the state of Wisconsin.”
Kleefisch is a former TV reporter who served with Walker for two terms, including when he effectively ended collective bargaining for most public employees in the state in 2011, drawing huge protests and a failed recall attempt.
She says she is the best prepared to win statewide in November and to enact conservative priorities, including investing more in police, expanding school choice programs and implementing a flat income tax.
During a campaign stop with Kleefisch last week, Pence said no other gubernatorial candidate in the U.S. is “more capable, more experienced, or a more proven conservative.”
Michels is co-owner of Wisconsin’s largest construction company and has touted his work to build his family’s business. He lost the 2004 Senate race to Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold (who was later defeated by Johnson), and has been a major donor to GOP politicians.
At a rally on Friday, Trump praised Michels as an “incredible success story.” He criticized Kleefisch as part of the “failed establishment” and also took aim at Vos. He told supporters that Michels will win the primary “easily” and that he’s the better choice to defeat Evers.
Michels pledged that “we are going to have election integrity here in Wisconsin.” He also said he will bring “law and order” back to Wisconsin, criticized Evers’s handling of schools and blamed Biden for rising prices.
GOP state Rep. Tim Ramthun is also making a long-shot bid for governor, and has made the largely symbolic move of rescinding Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes for Biden the centerpiece of his campaign.
The candidate Trump endorsed to take on Vos, Adam Steen, has said he would decertify Biden’s victor as well.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press