Tim Michels, a rich businessman backed by former President Donald Trump, won the Republican primary for governor of Wisconsin on Tuesday and will face Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in a race that may change elections in the key battleground state.
Michels beat former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who was backed by establishment Republicans like ex-Gov. Scott Walker and was endorsed by former Vice President, Mike Pence.
Michels vowed in his victory address to focus on employment and the economy, as well as to speak out for individuals who "have been left behind by the Democratic Party that only wants to focus on social concerns."
According to Michels, "The welfare of Wisconsin's hard-working citizens is my first priority as governor."
Michels was described by Evers' team as "the most extremist and divisive contender conceivable, one who will tell Donald Trump anything just to maintain his backing."
Both Michels and Kleefisch erroneously claimed that the 2020 presidential election was rigged, a fiction Trump has promoted in an attempt to avenge his loss to Joe Biden.
According to federal and state election officials, as well as Trump's attorney general, there is no credible proof that the election was corrupted. The courts, including those selected by Trump, unanimously dismissed the previous president's charges of fraud.
Michels stated that decertifying the 2020 contest results was not a priority, but whatever happens, everything will be on the table. Other changes to voting and elections that he favors include eliminating the bipartisan committee that oversees Wisconsin elections.
The governor's race was the latest proxy battle between Trump and Pence, former allies who have backed rival candidates in other swing states as they try to steer the Republican Party in divergent ways. The results on Tuesday added to Trump's tally of triumphs, which included victories for his chosen candidates in Arizona's governor and Senate contests last week.
Meanwhile, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington state conceded a loss in her congressional district after being overtaken in late vote tallies by a GOP rival sponsored by Trump.
Rep. Liz Cheney, who also supported Trump's impeachment and is the vice head of the House panel investigating his participation in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurgency, faces a difficult primary challenge next Tuesday.
These developments, along with the outpouring of Republican support after the FBI issued a search warrant at Trump's Florida residence on Monday, served as new reminders of the former president's lasting hold on the Republican Party.
Back in Wisconsin, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes won the Democratic nomination to run against Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, a prominent Trump admirer.
The contest is one of the last to be scheduled before the November general election when control of the Senate's existing 50-50 split is at stake, and Wisconsin is regarded by Democrats as one of their greatest opportunities to flip a seat.
State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, Wisconsin's most influential Republican, defeated a Trump-backed opponent. Vos said his victory demonstrated that "you don't have to be a lapdog for everything Donald Trump says." The governor elected this fall will serve until the presidential election.
Becca Balint, the Democratic contender for Vermont's lone House seat, was chosen by voters. Dr. Scott Jensen, a COVID-19 vaccine skeptic sponsored by the state GOP, was chosen by Minnesota Republicans to fight Gov. Tim Walz. In Connecticut, a Trump-backed candidate won the Republican Senate primary.
The most closely watched contests, though, were in Wisconsin, where Trump has maintained his pressure campaign to nullify Biden's 2020 triumph. Four years after Trump won it by the same margin, Biden won the state by about 21,000 votes. Two partial recounts, a neutral audit, a review by a conservative legal firm, and various lawsuits have all affirmed the 2020 decision.
Evers has made voting and elections a central theme of his campaign, claiming to be the only candidate who will safeguard democracy. In Wisconsin, Michels declared, "We are going to have election integrity." He also promised to restore "peace and order" to the state and blamed Biden for rising costs. At a rally on Friday, Trump lauded Michels as an "amazing success story" and lashed out at the "failing establishment."
Republican state Rep. Tim Ramthun also announced a run for governor.
"The struggle today is genuinely against Tony Evers and the leftists who want to take away our way of life," Kleefisch stated in her concession address.
Barnes stressed his middle-class origins and upbringing in his victory address in Milwaukee while portraying Johnson as "self-serving" and "an out-of-touch politician" who only cares about special interests and affluent fundraisers.
"It's time for a change, everybody," said Barnes, who, if elected, would be Wisconsin's first black senator. “It is a past time for us to have a representative who is aware of our situation.”
According to Johnson, Barnes was the "most radical left candidate" Democrats could have selected.
“This is nothing but a dispute amongst liberty, riches, and the radical leftist socialism,” he concluded.