On Tuesday, voters in Wisconsin will choose a Republican nominee for governor who could reshape how elections are conducted in the marquee battleground, where former President Donald Trump is still pushing to overturn his 2020 loss and supporting candidates he sees as allies.
Trump has endorsed businessman Tim Michels, a self-described outsider who has invested $12 million in his campaign, against former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who has the backing of former Vice President Mike Pence and ex-Gov. Walker, Scott Both candidates falsely claim that the 2020 election was rigged, despite the fact that Kleefisch has stated that decertifying the results is “not constitutional,” and Michels has stated that “everything will be on the table.”
The race to replace Democratic Gov. Tony Evers is yet another proxy war between Trump and Pence, who were once partners but are now pursuing different paths for the Republican Party. They also supported opposing Republican candidates in primaries in Arizona and Georgia, swing states that, like Wisconsin, are expected to be crucial in the 2024 presidential election, when both men could be on the ballot.
After Barnes’ top rivals dropped out of the race late last month, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes is the likely Democratic nominee to face Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, one of Trump’s most vocal supporters, in the state’s Senate race. The contest is one of the last to be set before the November general election, when control of the Senate’s currently 50-50 split is at stake, and Democrats see Wisconsin as one of their best chances to flip a seat.
The results of Tuesday’s election have far-reaching implications beyond Wisconsin, a state that is almost evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats and where 2022 will be viewed as a bellwether for the 2024 presidential election. The governor elected this fall will be in office for the presidential election and will have the authority to sign or veto changes to election laws enacted by the Republican-controlled Legislature. The next governor and U.S. senator may also have an impact on issues ranging from abortion to education and taxes.
In other news, Minnesota Republicans are expected to select Dr. Scott Jensen, a COVID-19 vaccine skeptic endorsed by the state GOP, to run against Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday. Vermont, the only state without a female member of its congressional delegation, is expected to nominate a woman for the state’s lone House seat. The winner will succeed Rep. Peter Welch, who is running for the seat held by retiring Sen. Patrick Leahy for over four decades. In Connecticut, Republicans will select challengers to two-term Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal.
Michels and Kleefisch have both stated that overturning the 2020 election results is not a top priority. They have, however, stated that they would abolish the bipartisan commission that oversees Wisconsin elections and would support bans on voters having someone else turn in their absentee ballots, as well as ballot drop boxes located anywhere other than staffed clerk offices.
Kleefisch is a former television reporter who served with Walker for two terms, including when he effectively ended collective bargaining for most state employees in 2011, sparking massive protests and a failed recall attempt. She claims to be the best prepared to win statewide in November and to implement conservative priorities such as increasing police funding, expanding school choice programs, and instituting a flat income tax.
Michels is a co-owner of Wisconsin’s largest construction company, and he has emphasized his efforts to help his family’s business grow. He was a major donor to Republican politicians before losing the 2004 Senate race to Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold.
Trump praised Michels as a “incredible success story” at a rally on Friday. He attacked Kleefisch as part of the “failed establishment,” as well as Vos. He told supporters that Michels will easily win the primary and that he is the better candidate to defeat Evers.
Barnes is the overwhelming favorite in the Senate race after rivals such as Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry dropped out. A Milwaukee native and former state legislator who would be Wisconsin’s first Black senator, Barnes says he wants to help rebuild the middle class and protect abortion rights. A state ban on abortion took effect after the U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.