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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Wisconsin Republican primary for Governor remains heavily contested with a week to go

Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and Tim Michels are separated by a percentage point in the polls ahead of Tuesday’s primary election.

Election information for UW-Madison students is available at For more information on ballots, registration or polling places regarding the Aug. 9 partisan primary, visit

Wisconsin Republican Governor candidates Tim Michels and former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch are in a dead heat with less than two weeks before the August primary election.

The latest Marquette Law School poll from June shows Michels (27%) ahead of Kleefisch by a single percentage point. Kevin Nicholson, who suspended his campaign in July, was third with 10% and state Rep. Timothy Ramthun (R–Campbellsport) was fourth with 3% support. An additional 32% said they “didn’t know” who they planned to vote for.

Michels proudly carries the endorsements of former President Donald Trump and former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson. Kleefisch is endorsed by former Vice President Mike Pence, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R- Rochester) and former Gov. Scott Walker, amongst others. 

A Michels victory may indicate former President Trump still holds significant influence over Wisconsin Republicans, whereas a Kleefisch victory may indicate that his influence is slipping.

The winner of next Tuesday’s primary will challenge Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in November. Despite President Joe Biden’s popularity hitting all-time lows, Evers remained above water with 48 percent approval in the latest Marquette Law School poll

If Democrats lose the seat, Republicans will control the Assembly, Senate and Governor’s office. A GOP trifecta would allow Republicans to enact bills previously blocked by Gov. Evers, such as racial education restricitons, harsher abortion laws and restrictions on gender identity and expression in schools.

Options to register online or by mail for the Aug. 9 primary election have passed. However, voters can still register at their municipal clerk's office by Aug. 5 or register the day of the election at their polling place with a valid photo ID and proof of Wisconsin residence. 

Meet the candidates

Michels, who co-owns Brownsville-based construction giant Michels Corporation, has run for political office twice before. He first ran in 1998 when he lost a State Senate Republican primary. In 2004, he won the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate before losing the race to former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold.

Still, Michels says he’s “not looking for a political career.”

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"I'm 59 years old. I am doing this to serve,” Michels told WPR in late July. . “President Trump didn't have to run for president, but he wanted to drain the swamp. I don't have to run for governor, but I'm gonna go turn Madison upside down."

Michels’ campaign has dominated fundraising, raising nearly $8 million to Kleefisch’s $3.7 million, according to campaign finance records. Over 99% of Michels’ campaign haul was self-funded.

His platform centers around increasing police resources, lowering taxes and expanding vocational training. Michels also supports Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion ban, which makes no exceptions for cases of rape and incest. 

The previously dormant ban was reinstated following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization last June. The 6-3 ruling effectively dismantled Roe v. Wade, which had previously guaranteed the right to an abortion.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a concurring Dobbs opinion that called for reconsideration of other cases that guaranteed the right to same-sex marriage, amongst others. Michels openly opposes same-sex marriage.

Kleefisch’s campaign has centered around her previous work as Lieutenant Governor under former Gov. Scott Walker. She has also promised voters new tax reforms, including a clear plan for a flatter income tax as a first step to completely removing individual income taxes.

Although the federal income tax would remain, this plan would largely benefit the richest Wisconsinites and reduce the state’s budget for infrastructure, education and other vital public services, according to an analysis from the Wisconsin Budget Project.

Kleefisch admitted her plan would require “some sacrifices” but said she’s committed to moving or cutting state agencies to lower taxes, according to the Cap Times.

Election policy split

In July, Kleefisch, Michels and Rep. Ramthun met face-to-face for a debate. Each candidate was asked whether they would attempt to decertify Wisconsin’s 2020 election results despite such a task being impossible

Michels called decertification “not a priority”, despite being endorsed by former President Trump, who continues to demand Wisconsin Republicans decertify the 2020 election results. Kleefisch similarly stated that she would not aim to decertify the election results.

Ramthun, whose campaign is largely centered around decertification, was the only candidate who said he would attempt to decertify the election.

“I’m surprised I’m the only one,” Ramthun added.

All three candidates, however, support dismantling the Wisconsin Election Commission. The commission was established by Republicans in 2015 but has been criticized by GOP officials in the wake of the 2020 election.

Editor's note: The print version of this story had an incorrect election date in the prelude. That date has since been updated in the online version.

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Ian Wilder

Ian Wilder is a Sports Editor and former senior staff writer for The Daily Cardinal. He’s formerly covered the men’s hockey beat, state politics and features. Follow him on Twitter at @IanWWilder.

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