Trump support for Michels threatens to turn Wisconsin race upside down

Donald Trump’s endorsement of construction company co-owner Tim Michels in the hotly contested Wisconsin governor race threatens to divide Republicans further and disrupt the race less than two months before the primary.

Trump’s endorsement of Michels, a late entry into the race, comes after former Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch spent years laying the groundwork for a run and building support, including winning key approvals from the powerful corporate and state manufacturing lobby group and former Gov Scott Walker.

Kleefisch won 55% of the delegates’ vote at last month’s Wisconsin Republican Party convention, less than the 60% needed for official approval, but well above the nearly 4% Michels got.

The winner of the August 9 primaries will go to Democratic government Tony Evers.

Michels has been able to tap into his personal wealth to spend millions on television commercials since entering the race in April. Trump’s endorsement will only further raise Michels’ profile, and hours after he got the backing, Michels edited one of his ads to highlight the former president’s support. Michels previously ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004, losing to Democrat Russ Feingold, and has remained largely out of the public eye ever since.

Both Kleefisch and Michels, as well as State Representative Tim Ramthun, had traveled to Trump’s Florida resort to meet with him and obtain approval. But Trump threw his support behind Michels late Thursday.

It came two weeks after Michels said he was in favor of abolishing Wisconsin’s bipartisan election commission, a change from his previous position calling for reform. The committee’s actions during the 2020 election, which President Joe Biden won by nearly 21,000 votes in Wisconsin, have come under fierce criticism from Republicans, especially those who believe Trump’s lie that he has won the state.

Biden’s win has been confirmed by numerous court rulings, recounts, an impartial audit and a review by a conservative law firm. There is no evidence of widespread fraud.

Trump said in his endorsement that Wisconsin needs a governor who will stop inflation, strengthen the border and end electoral fraud. He said Michels is an “America First Conservative” who will support Second Amendment gun rights, honor law enforcement and stand up to the “Woke Mob trying to destroy our country.”

Trump also said Michels will “produce jobs like no one else can imagine”.

Michels called Trump’s endorsement a “huge boost” for his campaign in a statement.

In Michels’ campaign ad noting Trump’s endorsement, he talks about his family’s construction company, Michels Corp., which in 2017 worked on building part of the wall along the US border with Mexico. Michels also vows to block a bill that would allow non-US citizens to obtain driver’s licenses or tuition grants, measures highly unlikely to pass by the Republican-controlled Wisconsin legislature.

Trying to lose approval in her favor, Kleefisch said, “If I know one thing about President Trump, it’s that he likes winners, and I’m the only person in this race to have won statewide — not one, only four times.”

She refers to her primary statewide win in the 2010 lieutenant governor’s race, two election wins as Walker’s running mate and her win in the 2011 recall election.

A fourth candidate, business adviser Kevin Nicholson, downplayed the news by saying he remains the outsider candidate and that the race to replace Evers “will not be won by approval”.

Trump has a mixed record with national endorsements, and his Wisconsin election record is also mixed. He lost the 2016 Republican presidential primaries to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, before narrowly winning Wisconsin in November. He lost to Biden by a similar margin in 2020.

In a Marquette University Law School poll last month, 49% of Republican respondents said they were more likely to support a candidate backed by Trump. Forty percent said his approval would make no difference. And 11% said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate backed by Trump.

Overall, 61% of respondents, including Democrats, had an unfavorable opinion of Trump, while 35% approved.

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