Tim Michels defeated former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch in Wisconsin’s Republican gubernatorial primary election Tuesday, dealing a blow to the state’s conservative establishment.
Despite trailing Kleefisch in voter-rich Waukesha County, Michels dominated Wisconsin’s rural counties and scored key wins in the Fox Valley with over 60% of the vote in Fond du Lac County and nearly 60% in Dodge County to win the primary by just over 5%.
“As governor, my number one priority will be to take care of the hardworking people of Wisconsin,” Michels told supporters in a speech after his victory.
The race represents a significant victory for Trump, who held a rally for Michels a week before the primary. Trump’s endorsement directly conflicted with Kleefisch’s backing from establishment Republicans, including former Gov. Scott Walker, former Vice President Mike Pence and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
In her concession to Michels late Tuesday night, Kleefisch said she was grateful her supporters “left it all on the field.”
“I have conceded this race to Michels, and I urge you all to stay in the fight,” Kleefisch added. “The fight now is truly against Tony Evers and the liberals who want to take away our way of life.”
Michels will now face sitting Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in the Nov. 8 general election, where his campaign will likely revolve around the same central promises of election integrity, education reform and “draining the Madison swamp.”
Evers wasted no time calling out his challenger on Twitter.
“Tim is more focused on appeasing Donald Trump than listening to the people of Wisconsin,” Evers said in a Twitter video Tuesday night. “This election will determine the future of our great state.”
Barnes advances in Democratic Senate primary
“We’re going to the Senate to rebuild the middle class. We’re going to protect the right to choose. We’re going to fight to make the American Dream an American reality,” Barnes said in a tweet Tuesday night after the Associated Press called his victory.
Barnes will now face incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who decisively won his own primary on Tuesday.
The race between the two is expected to be competitive, with the most recent Marquette Law School poll from June showing Barnes leading Johnson by just two points. The race is also likely to receive significant national attention, as the winner of the seat will be crucial to deciding partisan control of the U.S. Senate.
With Barnes previously expected to win the primary, both candidates have already tried to portray each other as being out of touch with Wisconsinites due to their views.
Johnson tried to paint Barnes as the “most radical left candidate” Democrats could have elected shortly after Tuesday’s primary.
“This [race] is a contest between radical left socialism versus freedom and prosperity,” Ron Johnson told TMJ4 Tuesday.
Similarly, Barnes has criticized Johnson's extreme views on social issues.
“Child care. Social security. Marriage equality. The right to choose. These are all things we need that Ron Johnson has refused to fight for,” Barnes tweeted last week. “At every single turn, he’s made it clear: he is in it for himself, not for Wisconsin.”
Trump’s endorsements shake up Assembly primaries
On Tuesday, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos narrowly fended off a primary challenge from Trump-backed Adam Steen in a race defined by grievances and falsehoods over the 2020 election.
Vos, the longest-serving speaker in state history, drew former President Donald Trump’s ire for refusing to take the illegal and impossible act of decertifying President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in Wisconsin.
In response, Trump endorsed Steen, who made overturning the 2020 election results central to his campaign. Steen also vowed to wrest control of Wisconsin's elections from the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Committee and put it in the hands of the Republican-controlled Legislature, according to his campaign website.
Vos is one of Wisconsin’s most influential Republicans and has served the 63rd District since 2005, commanding upwards of 98% of the votes in the past three primaries according to Ballotpedia.
However, Tuesday’s race came within three percentage points.
University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor Barry Burden said Steen’s shocking overperformance against Vos spoke to Wisconsin Republicans’ outrage regarding the 2020 election and Trump’s enduring power among the party’s voters.
“Vos narrowly won a primary contest that should have been an easy victory,” Burden said in an interview with The Daily Cardinal. “Trump's late endorsement of [Steen] and Trump’s repeated complaints about Vos not challenging the 2020 election results activated many Republican voters still angry about Biden's victory to turn on establishment candidates.”
Despite the race’s close margin, Burden doesn’t foresee Vos changing his stance on the 2020 election, especially since he is all but guaranteed to secure reelection in November.
“If anything, now that the primary contest is settled, [Vos] has the freedom to speak even more freely,” Burden said, noting that after his primary win, Vos castigated Michael Gableman — the former Supreme Court Justice he had tasked with investigating the 2020 election and who had endorsed Steen — as an “embarrassment to the state.”
In Dane County, Supervisor Alex Joers won the primary for the 79th district, which was left open after current Rep. Diane Hesselbein decided to run for Wisconsin State Senate. Joers promises to elevate issues of land conservation, flood mitigation, small business recovery, public health and affordable housing if elected.
“Thank you to the voters of the 79th District,” Joers said in a tweet. “I will continue to work hard for you and fight for our values. Onward to November!”
Joers will face Republican nominee Victoria Fueger in the general election in November. Fueger ran uncontested in her primary.
Madison Democratic Reps. Francesca Hong (District 76), Sheila Stubbs (District 77) and Lisa Subeck (District 78) all won their own uncontested primaries. Subeck will face Republican Matt Neuhaus in the Nov. 8 general election.
Ian Wilder is a senior staff writer and current men’s hockey beat reporter for The Daily Cardinal. He’s a former state politics and features reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @IanWWilder.
Gavin Escott is a senior staff writer and photographer for multiple desks at The Daily Cardinal. Throughout his time at the Cardinal, he's written articles for city, state, campus and breaking news. He is the current host/producer of the Cardinal Call podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @gav_escott.