By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Businessman Tim Michels, who wielded a coveted endorsement from former President Donald Trump, came out victorious Tuesday in a bruising Republican primary for governor.
Michels will now face Democrat incumbent Gov. Tony Evers in November’s general election.
Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch conceded with about 80% of the vote in and a nearly 20,000-vote deficit. As of 11:30 a.m., Michels led Kleefisch by more than 4 percentage points, 285,711 to 258,034.
“Tonight we celebrate, but tomorrow we get to work. Thank you Wisconsin!” Michels tweeted following his win.
Kleefisch sounded magnanimous in defeat nearly four years after she and then-Gov. Scott Walker lost to Evers and fellow liberal Mandela Barnes in the November 2018 general election.
“I urge you all to stay in the fight. The fight now is truly against Tony Evers and the liberals who want to take away our way of life,” Kleefisch said late Tuesday. She was endorsed by former Vice President Mike Pence in what felt like a proxy war between top national Republicans.
Republican Party of Wisconsin Chairman Paul Farrow congratulated Michels, as well as Kleefisch, state Rep. Timothy Ramthun and Adam Fischer “for bringing their passion for Wisconsin and their voices to the race.” Farrow said the party would unite around the mission of making Evers a one-term governor.
“The failed leadership of Tony Evers is evident as he worked to hike taxes, let Kenosha burn, put violent criminals back on the streets, kept schools closed, and rendered our state government dysfunctional,” Farrow said. “Wisconsin can’t afford four more years of his absent leadership, and we look forward to uniting the GOP coalition to elect Tim Michels this November.”
But there’ll need to be some inner-party healing on the road to November following a rough primary season that featured no shortage of political attacks — including Trump’s bombastic bashing of Kleefisch and her family during a campaign rally for Michels last week.
Wisconsin Republicans will need short memories, however, if they want to beat Evers, who is sitting on a hefty — and growing — campaign war chest. Campaign finance reports in mid-July showed the Democrat’s campaign raised more than $10 million in the first half of this year. He’s got a lot of well-heeled leftist friends who are dumping tens of millions dollars more into the effort to keep Evers in office. The left at home and nationally sees him as the last line of defense against what most assuredly will remain a Republican-controlled Legislature.
But Michels, the wealthy co-owner of a multi-billion construction company, is no piker. He’s spent more than $12 million of his own money on the campaign to date, according to campaign filings.
Race for Lieutenant Governor
Michels running mate will be state Sen. Roger Roth. The Appleton Republican and former president of the state Senate easily defeated a crowded field of opponents for the GOP’s lieutenant governor nomination. With 87% of the vote counted, Roth led his closest competitor, state Sen. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point), by nearly 70,000 votes and 13 percentage points.
He’ll face Sara Rodriguez, a Milwaukee-area Democrat and state representative who replaces Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (the Democrat’s candidate for U.S. Senate) as Evers’ running mate.
Secretary of State
State Rep. Amy Loudenbeck won the Republican primary for Secretary of State by nearly 7 percentage points. She’ll face off against Democrat Party incumbent Doug La Follette, who has held the office since 1982 and was first elected Wisconsin Secretary of State during the Ford administration. Loudenbeck is campaigning on bringing Wisconsin’s controversial elections administration back under the Secretary of State’s Office. La Follette supports the status quo, the Wisconsin Elections Commission controlling the state’s election.
“Wisconsin voters have taken the first step forward in the effort to restore purpose and respect to the Office of Secretary of State,” Loudenbeck said. “I am grateful to everyone who chose me as the best candidate to take on a 44 year incumbent who has neglected the office for far too long.”