Tim Michels, a wealthy businessman backed by former President Donald Trump, won Wisconsin’s Republican gubernatorial primary on Tuesday and will face incumbent Democrat Tony Evers in a matchup that could mark an election in a battleground state.
Michels defeated former Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, who had the support of former Vice President Mike Pence and traditional Republicans such as former Governor Scott Walker.
In his victory speech, Michels said his campaign would focus on “standing up for the working people of Wisconsin. They have been abandoned by the Democratic Party, which only wants to focus on social issues.” He promised to prioritize jobs and the economy.
The Evers campaign described Michels as “the most extreme and divisive candidate possible, one who will say anything to Donald Trump just to keep his support.”
Both Michels and Kleefisch falsely claimed that the 2020 presidential election was rigged, a lie that Trump has pushed in hopes of reversing his loss to Joe Biden. Michels said decertifying the election was not a priority, but “everything will be on the table.” He also defends other electoral changes such as dismantling the bipartisan commission that manages voting in Wisconsin.
The fight was a new indirect fight between Trump and Pence, previously allies and who have supported rival candidates in other battleground states in their efforts to steer the GOP in opposite directions.
Tuesday’s vote came a day after FBI agents searched Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property as part of an investigation into whether he took classified White House documents to his Florida residence, The Associated was told. Press two people familiar with the matter.
In the Democratic Senate primary, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes won the nomination to face Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, one of Trump’s most outspoken supporters, after Barnes’ main rivals dropped out late last month. It was one of the last fights to be formalized ahead of the general elections in November, when a Senate now divided 50% will be at stake. Democrats see Wisconsin as one of their best chances to win a seat.
Wisconsin’s most powerful Republican, State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, beat a Trump-backed candidate. Vos, who rejected pressure from the former president to decertify the 2020 election results, said his victory showed that “you don’t have to be a lapdog or whatever Donald Trump says.”
Tuesday’s results had ramifications beyond Wisconsin, a state almost halved between Republicans and Democrats and where the midterm elections are seen as a preview of the 2024 presidential election. The person chosen as governor this fall will be in the position during the presidential elections and will be able to endorse or veto changes in the electoral law approved by the state chamber, dominated by Republicans. In addition, the next governor and his federal senator will be able to influence decisions on issues such as abortion, education and taxes.
“We are a state split down the middle, so by definition any vote in Wisconsin is going to be decided by a few percentage points one way or the other,” said former Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat. “And those few percentage points in Wisconsin could very well determine the course of the country for years to come.”
In other primaries on Tuesday, a Trump-backed candidate won the Republican Senate nomination in Connecticut, a state that was for years a stronghold of the party’s mainstream. Leora Levy won Trump’s support last week and will face Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, who has two terms of experience.
Voters in Vermont — the only state that has never had a woman in her congressional delegation — chose a woman, Becca Balint, as the Democratic nominee for the state’s only seat in the House of Representatives. She is the favorite to replace Rep. Peter Welch, who won the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat held for years by Patrick Leahy, who is retiring. And Minnesota Republicans chose COVID-19 vaccine-skeptical Dr. Scott Jensen, backed by the state’s GOP, to take on Gov. Tim Walz.
But the most closely contested vote was in Wisconsin, where Trump has kept up his pressure to call for President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory to be cancelled. Biden won by nearly 21,000 votes, four years after Trump narrowly won the state. by a similar margin. The 2020 result has been supported by two partial recounts, a nonpartisan audit, an analysis by a conservative law firm and several lawsuits.