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Trump-backed businessman Tim Michels is the projected winner in battleground Wisconsin’s GOP gubernatorial primary.
Michels and former Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch were the front-runners in a field of four Republican candidates that also included state lawmaker Timothy Ramthun.
Michels will face off in November against Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who faced no primary challenge but who’s being heavily targeted by Republicans as he seeks a second term.
The fight for Wisconsin’s GOP gubernatorial nomination was latest test of Republican clout between former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence, one-time running mates who could potentially face-off against each other for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
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Michels, a multimillionaire owner of a construction company who poured millions of his own money into his race, was endorsed by Trump in early June. Two weeks ago, Pence once again broke with his former boss as he backed Kleefisch, the former conservative lieutenant governor who served eight years under then-Gov. Scott Walker.
KLEEFISCH LANDS ANOTHER HIGH PROFILE CONSERVATIVE ENDORSEMENT
“There is no candidate for governor in America that is more capable, more experienced or a more proven conservative than Rebecca Kleefisch,” Pence said as he teamed up with the former lieutenant governor at a campaign stop in suburban Milwaukee last Wednesday.
And Kleefisch touted that she was “tested and proven and ready to go,” and that she’s “the one who has won statewide four times.”
Two days later, as he headlined a rally for Michels in Waukesha, Trump charged that “Rebecca Kleefisch does not have what it takes to beat Tony Evers… He’s going to win if he runs against Rebecca.”
Asked by reporters on the eve of the primary for comments Trump’s derogatory attacks, Kleefisch responded: “No thoughts that I can share.”
And she seemed to discount Trump’s endorsement of Michels as she emphasized in a Fox News interview on Monday that “the voters of Wisconsin are going to be the ones who determine the outcome of this race.”
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Michels’ campaign attempted to frame Kleefisch as a never Trumper, writing in an email to supporters on primary eve that “if we don’t get Trump supporters to the polls to vote for Tim Michels on Tuesday, the Never Trumpers will win.” And Michel’s campaign argued that if Kleefisch wins, “the media will falsely report Wisconsinites have rejected Trump’s endorsement.”
Michels also spent big bucks to run ads targeting Kleefisch, while the former lieutenant governor criticized Michels – who owns a home in Connecticut – as a part-time Wisconsin resident.
The candidate Trump backed in last week’s GOP gubernatorial primary in Arizona, former TV news anchor Kari Lake, narrowly edged real estate developer and Arizona Board of Regents member Karrin Taylor Robson, who was supported by Pence.
But in May, conservative Republican Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, who was endorsed by Pence, trounced his Trump-backed challenger, former Sen. David Perdue, in the state’s GOP gubernatorial primary.
Besides Pence, two other potential 2024 GOP White House hopefuls, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and former South Carolina governor and former ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, endorsed Kleefisch this summer. Haley campaigned with the former lieutenant governor and helped her raise roughly $100,000.