Republican primary voters on Tuesday toppled their party’s Wisconsin branch by electing a Trump-backed nominee for governor who destroyed the 2020 election results to take on Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, in one of the most sweeping November matches of the country.
Tim Michels, a wealthy construction magnate who was backed by former President Donald J. Trump, defeated former Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, who had support from former Governor Scott Walker, former Vice President Mike Pence and dozens of state legislators, as well as the country’s largest corporate organizations. the state.
And Mr Trump’s supporters seriously shocked the powerful Republican Speaker of the State Assembly, Robin Vos. In recent weeks, Mr. Fox had become the former president’s main opponent among Wisconsin Republicans for refusing to give in to Mr. Trump’s false claims that the 2020 results can still be retracted.
Mr. Vos slid past a far-right challenger and political neophyte who was desperately short on money, but was backed by a Trump endorsement just a week before the primaries.
Mr. Michels won by basing his entire campaign on his support of Mr. Trump, emphasizing that distinction in nearly all of his multimillion-dollar self-funded television advertising, and reminding voters during campaign stops and debates.
“I want to thank President Trump for his support, for his endorsement,” Mr. Michels said in his victory remarks at his campaign headquarters in Waukesha, Wisconsin. “It was a great confirmation of our meteoric rise in this campaign. He knows we need new leadership and he sees a lot of similarities.”
During the primaries, Mr. Michels, 60, endorsed some of Mr. Trump’s most outlandish conspiracy theories about the 2020 election. He pledged to consider signing legislation that would reverse Trump’s defeat to Joseph R. Biden Jr. in Wisconsin and repeal the state’s 10 electoral votes — a move that has no basis in state or federal law.
But on Tuesday night, Mr Michels did not mention the 2020 elections or the state’s voting laws – an issue he said last week he was “very, very excited”.
Mr. Michels has projected a crackdown on crime, pledging to fire the Democratic District Attorney in Milwaukee, hire more police officers and increase jail sentences for gun-related crimes. He also opposes abortion, which is now illegal in Wisconsin under an 1849 law and likely will remain so under the Republican-controlled legislature.
Now Mr. Michels is up against Mr. Evers, who has portrayed himself as a defender of fair elections and has vetoed more than a dozen bills passed by the legislature that would have restricted voting.
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Michels has proposed replacing the bipartisan Wisconsin Election Commission with a body made up of one member from each of the state’s gerrymandered congressional districts — a way for Republicans to maintain control of the state’s electoral machinery for at least the next decade.
Mr. Evers has shattered fundraising records in Wisconsin, raising more than $10 million through July, despite concerns among Democrats that he isn’t generating enough excitement among the party’s grassroots. Mr. Michels has spent more than $8 million of his own money since entering the race in April, and is likely to invest even more in the general election.
While Mr. Michels prevailed, Mr. Trump ultimately failed to replace Mr. Fox, who has been in the legislature since 2005 and has served as speaker since 2013, wielding more influence than any other Republican in the state. In recent years.
After publicly and privately pressured Mr. Vos during the 2020 election, he backed his major challenger, Adam Steen, last week. Mr. Steen, a small real estate investor, had no paid staff and barely raised enough money to print and ship campaign literature.
The race was much closer than Wisconsin analysts expected, with Mr. Steen appearing to come within several hundred votes to overthrow Mr. Fox, a testament to the strength of Trump’s endorsement and the enduring false belief that the election from 2020 can still be rolled back.
For the past year, Mr. Fox has tried to entertain Trump’s wildest conspiracy theories about the 2020 election without completely giving in to the lies. When the former president last summer demanded that the state review election results, Mr. Vos instead appointed Michael Gableman, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, to continue a state-funded investigation of his own.
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The Gableman investigation served as an albatross for Mr. Fox when Mr. Gableman falsely suggested in March that state lawmakers could decertify the 2020 election. Mr Vos opposed the proposal, including in several conversations with the former president.
A week ago, Mr. Trump supported Mr. Steen, who had raised less than $40,000 at the time, barely enough to print campaign literature and send it to his district in western Racine County. Last weekend Mr. Gableman turned against his political patron and joined Mr. Trump to Mr. Stone to support.
Mr Vos at his victory party called Mr Gableman “an embarrassment to the state” and said he would review the status of the former judge’s ongoing investigation next week.
Tuesday’s primaries in Wisconsin and three other states — Minnesota, Connecticut and Vermont — came a day after the FBI conducted a search of Mr. Trump’s Florida home, sparking the ire of Republicans across the country. Michels called the search ‘a political witch hunt’, while… Mrs Kleefisch said yes… “shocking and unprecedented.”
On the Democratic side in Wisconsin, the party staged its most sweeping primary two weeks ago, when three leading candidates dropped out and Lt. gov. Mandela Barnes supported in the contest to face Senator Ron Johnson, a two-term Republican.
The Barnes-Johnson matchup is expected to be one of the hardest-fought Senate races in the country. Johnson, the only sitting Republican senator active in a state that Biden wore in 2020, has been a top target of Democrats pointing to his role as a leading amplifier of misinformation about the pandemic and the US election.
In Minnesota’s race for governor, Republicans nominated Dr. Scott Jensen, a former state senator who gained notoriety for opposing efforts to mitigate the pandemic. His campaign could test the appetite for anti-abortion politics in Democratic states. His running mate, Matt Birk, a former professional soccer player, is one of Minnesota’s most prominent advocates of restricting abortion rights.
Representative Ilhan Omar, one of the leading progressives in the House, narrowly survived a Democratic primary challenge to her Minneapolis seat from Don Samuels, a former member of Minneapolis City Council, backed by several local mayors who have been at odds since its inception. with Mrs Omar. first elected in 2018.
In Vermont, Democrats elected Becca Balint, a state senator backed by Senator Bernie Sanders, to fill the state’s sole seat of the House. Ms. Balint defeated Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray, who was supported by Senator Patrick Leahy.
The seat of the House was open due to the retirement of Mr. Leahy after eight terms. Representative Peter Welch gave up to replace the Senator and achieved victory in the Senate primary.
Mrs. Balint, the president of the Vermont Senate, has presented herself as a progressive fighter in the image of Mr. Sanders. Mrs. Gray campaigned as a liberal conciliator, more willing to work among the moderate figures in her party.
And in Connecticut’s Republican primary to the Senate, voters chose Leora Levy, a Cuban-born member of the Republican National Committee backed by Mr. Trump. She defeated Themis Klarides, a former minority leader of the Connecticut House who was supported by party moderates.
But Ms. Levy isn’t expected to pose a competitive challenge to Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat seeking his third term.
When Ms. Kleefisch announced her bid for Wisconsin governor in September 2021, she promoted herself as the heir to Mr. Walker’s legacy — with whom she served before Mr. Evers ousted them in 2018 — and gained support from national Republicans such as Mr. Pence and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.
But she failed to consolidate the support of Trump’s most devoted supporters, who spent months searching for an alternative candidate.
Then, in April, Mr. Michels took part in the race. Shortly thereafter — in a relationship brokered by Reince Priebus, the Wisconsin-born former chief of staff to Mr. Trump — the former president backed Mr. Michels, whose fortune stems from a construction company he and his brothers inherited from their father that owned a was under contract to assist in the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline before it was canceled by Mr Biden.
Michels, who was the Republican nominee for the Wisconsin Senate in 2004, has since spent much of his time living in New York and Connecticut, owning a $17 million estate and attending school with his children. Mr. Michels continued to maintain a residency in Wisconsin and has voted regularly in the state, although he skipped the 2016 presidential primary, when Mr. Trump ran first on the ballot.
From the outset, Mr. Michels’ choice was rooted in Mr. Trump’s complaint about his 2020 Wisconsin loss.
When Mr. Michels met Mr. Trump at his Florida estate, the former president discussed tweets of photos showing Ms. Kleefisch’s then 16-year-old daughter attending a high school homecoming dance with Brian Hagedorn’s son, a Wisconsin Supreme Court. Mr. Trump and his Wisconsin supporters hold a grudge against Judge Hagedorn for casting the decisive vote in rejecting Mr Trump’s legal efforts to reverse the December 2020 election results.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported on Mr Trump’s interest in the photos.
While Mr. Michels never fully endorsed Mr. Trump’s futile obsession with decertifying the 2020 results, he played with the prospect enough to trick voters into believing he would try. In the final week before Tuesday’s primary, Mr. Michels said he would consider signing legislation to reclaim Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes — something for which there is no legal mechanism.
Ms Kleefisch has repeatedly said that it is impossible to undo the election.