Former president Donald Trump’s preferred candidate, Tim Michels, won the Republican nomination for governor of Wisconsin on Tuesday, defeating a rival supported by Mike Pence, as voters cast ballots in primaries across four states that highlighted internal divisions.
Evers was unopposed in his primary and on Wednesday plans to launch a statewide tour focused on his record of cutting taxes, repaving and repairing roads and bridges and expanding high-speed internet. Unlike in Georgia and Arizona, where Trump and his vice president have clashed over preferred candidates, there were fewer clear political and policy differences between Michels and Kleefisch. Both pledged to do away with the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission, which was created by Republicans to oversee voting, and take other steps to tighten voting laws.
“I love this great state, but because of the failed leadership of Tony Evers and Joe Biden, Wisconsin currently is a mess,” Michels said in a written statement after the race was called for him.
The result is a blow to the latest iteration of a Wisconsin GOP establishment: Kleefisch served with former governor Scott Walker and had deep ties to his organization and brand.
Two and a half hours after the polls closed, Kleefisch told supporters that she had conceded the race to Michels and urged the party to quickly come together. “The fight now is truly against Tony Evers and the liberals who want to take away our way of life,” she told her backers at a bar in Oconomowoc, a Milwaukee suburb. “You guys have fought, you guys have won, let’s keep winning and let’s beat Tony Evers.”
Democrats were also deciding some closely watched intraparty contests in other states. In neighboring Minnesota, Rep. Ilhan Omar, a member of the liberal “Squad,” narrowly defeated former Minneapolis City Council member Don Samuels, an anti-crime advocate whose pro-police views clashed with Omar’s.
Omar’s race was a microcosm of some larger disputes that have erupted in the Democratic Party. The two contenders took opposite sides on a ballot measure last year that would have replaced the Minneapolis Police Department with a newly created department of public safety. Omar supported the effort, while Samuels, who has worked to stem gun violence, opposed it and even sued to block it from moving forward. Voters rejected the measure.
“I think that when you push power, power pushes back,” Omar said in a brief interview with The Washington Post on Tuesday. “We’ve never been afraid to challenge the status quo. And when people feel threatened by the kind of progress that’s being made, they’ll do anything to take it back.”
Tuesday’s contests were the first to be held since news broke of the federal law enforcement search at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club, which has angered prominent Trump backers. In addition to Wisconsin and Minnesota, voters in Connecticut and Vermont also picked nominees. And a special election for a conservative U.S. House district in southern Minnesota offered a snapshot of the energy in both parties.
One of the year’s biggest Senate races was officially set in Wisconsin, as Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D) was projected to take on Sen. Ron Johnson (R) in the fall. The two sides swiftly traded barbs, with Barnes labeling Johnson a “self-serving millionaire,” and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Rick Scott (R-Fla.) attacking Barnes’s “liberal record.”
Barnes entered the day well-positioned to win the Democratic nomination after his top rivals ended their bids and endorsed him.
Johnson has made a series of political blunders, most recently suggesting that Social Security and Medicare be eliminated as federal entitlement programs and instead become programs approved by Congress on an annual basis as discretionary spending.
Barnes would be the state’s first Black senator, should he win in November. He regularly campaigns with both of his parents and emphasizes the family’s roots: His mother was a teacher, and his father an assembly line worker at an auto plant. Democrats say his working-class background will give him a favorable contrast to Johnson, who is among the wealthiest members of the Senate.
But Barnes’ path to victory in the purple state is complicated by a series of liberal positions and people that he is associated with, including backing Medicare-for-all, endorsements from Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), and being photographed holding up a T-shirt that reads “Abolish ICE.” Barnes says that he has never endorsed that movement, but held it up in solidarity with those protesting Trump’s immigration policies.
In a show of the Wisconsin GOP’s eagerness to paint Barnes as an extremist, the party unveiled a spoof Barnes campaign website Tuesday night featuring Barnes with a red T-shirt and asserting to the state’s voters that he will “bring fringe-left policies to Wisconsin.”
Also in Wisconsin, state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos beat back a challenge from a Trump-backed candidate. The former president endorsed little-known candidate Adam Steen, saying he felt Vos hasn’t done enough to overturn the 2020 election. Trump lost the state by about 21,000 votes out of 3.3 million cast.
“My opponent spent almost his entire campaign saying we should keep arguing about overturning the 2020 election,” Vos said in a statement. “I am glad the voters agreed with me that it’s time to move on and focus on the future, not the past.”
Voters in Minnesota also went to the polls to select a new member in the state’s 1st Congressional District, which stretches along the southern state line. There, the February death of Rep. Jim Hagedorn, a Republican, prompted a special election. Trump won the district by about 10 points in 2020, and though it was favored to remain red heading into the day, the results were being closely watched as a barometer for voter attitudes.
With about a third of the vote tallied, Republican Brad Finstad, who worked in the Trump administration as an agriculture official, led Democrat Jeff Ettinger, a onetime top executive at Hormel Foods, a major employer in the state.
Scott Jensen, a physician who is skeptical of coronavirus vaccines, was projected to win the Republican nomination for governor of Minnesota. He will face Gov. Tim Walz, won the Democratic nomination. The incumbent oversaw the unveiling of sweeping police reforms in the state after the killing of George Floyd in 2020.
Some voters casting ballots Tuesday were thinking about issues that have resonated nationally. In Wisconsin, Mike Radke, 57, said he voted for Michels. But had one of Michels’s Republican opponents prevailed, he said, he’d have gladly supported him or her against Evers, he said.
Radke, a supporter of Trump, said he was outraged by the FBI search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club.
“I think it’s a vulgar display of power,” he said. “Think about this. He’s the 45th president.”
Four Democrats were vying in Wisconsin for their party’s nomination for a House seat that’s open due to the retirement of Rep. Ron Kind (D). Candidates included state Sen. Brad Pfaff; small-business owner Rebecca Cooke, who played up her ties to rural parts of the state; Army veteran Deb McGrath; and La Crosse City Councilman Mark Neumann.
The winner was slated to take on Republican Derrick Van Orden, a retired Navy SEAL, who ran unopposed on the GOP side. Republican strategists see the seat as a strong pickup opportunity.
In secretary of state races, which have taken on more significance this year because the role the office can play in overseeing elections, all three GOP candidates pledged to eliminate the state’s election commission, . Currently, Wisconsin’s secretary of state does not oversee elections, but some Republicans in the state are pushing to change that.
Amy Loudenbeck, a member of the Wisconsin assembly, was projected to win, beating out a field that included a candidate backed by the America First Secretary of State Coalition, a new organization pushing for tighter voting rules.
Kim Crockett was projected to win the Republican nod for secretary of state in Minnesota. Crockett has voiced skepticism about the 2020 election results and will face incumbent Steve Simon (D).
In Vermont, Democrats chose between candidates representing different wings of their party for an opening for the state’s single at-large congressional seat.
In that race, Becca Balint, Vermont’s Senate president pro tempore, who received the backing of Sanders, was projected to win, according to the AP. She beat Lt. Gov Molly Gray, who received the backing of Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, a Democrat who’s retiring.
The seat is open because Rep. Peter Welch is leaving the post to try to replace Leahy. Welch won the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat, the AP projected. The Senate seat is favored by nonpartisan analysts to remain in Democratic hands in November.
In Connecticut, another Trump-backed candidate prevailed in a contested GOP primary. In this race, his pick, Cuban-born Leora Levy, was projected to prevail over several competitors to take on Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat.
One of last week’s primaries also featured a new development Tuesday. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.), one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump last year, conceded in her all-party primary against Joe Kent, a Green Beret backed by Trump. Herrera Beutler conceded with Kent leading the incumbent by less than 1,000 votes at the time.
The AP had not officially signaled that Herrera Beutler would not advance to the general election as of Tuesday evening. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D), an auto repair shop owner who got the most votes in the Aug 2. primary, has already advanced to the general election.
Marley reported from Madison, Wis. Sheila Regan in Richfield, Minn., and Mariana Alfaro in Washington contributed to this report.
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