WI GOP Won't Endorse Governor 05/22 09:06
MIDDLETON, Wis. (AP) -- Wisconsin Republicans voted Saturday not to endorse
anyone for governor ahead of the GOP primary in August, with former Lt. Gov.
Rebecca Kleefisch falling just short of the 60% needed to get the nod -- and
cash -- that comes with winning the party's official backing.
It marked the first time delegates have not endorsed a candidate for
governor. Many activists, and one of Kleefisch's rivals, had argued for not
endorsing anyone, saying it would fracture the party.
The winner of the Aug. 9 primary will advance to face Democratic Gov. Tony
Evers, in a race that's a top priority for both parties nationally. In addition
to Kleefisch, who polls have shown is leading the field, other candidates are
construction business co-owner Tim Michels; business consultant and former
Marine Kevin Nicholson; and state Rep. Timothy Ramthun.
The Republican endorsement has been highly sought after because it unlocks
funding from the state party, which can then spend as much as it wants on the
winner. Now the top candidates will fight it out without any official backing
from the party.
Kleefisch got 55%, while "no endorsement" got 43% on the final ballot. The
other candidates were all in the single digits.
After the vote, Kleefisch declared victory, saying she feels "terrific" with
getting majority support despite falling short of what was needed for the
Kleefisch, the only woman running for governor, served eight years under
former Gov. Scott Walker between 2011 and 2019.
She described herself at the annual convention outside of Madison as a "tea
party mom" and highlighted her victory in a 2011 recall election and her
opposition to abortion.
"Now I'm not a biologist." Kleefisch said. "But I am a woman and I will not
let a man like Tony Evers tell me how I'm supposed to feel about Roe. I will
win this because I can speak with a mother's heart."
She portrayed herself as a fighter, opposed to vaccine mandates, in support
of school choice and the only candidate "tested against the liberal mob,"
referring to protesters who demonstrated against Walker's ending of collective
bargaining for most public workers.
Michels, the most recent candidate to get in the race, dismissed attacks
against him for living out of state part-time for years, calling them "garbage"
and "political smear."
"I am in this to win, but I am not here to tear down this convention or any
other candidate for governor," Michels said. He didn't directly ask for an
endorsement, saying he wanted attendees' votes in August and November.
Nicholson, a former Marine, advocated for no endorsement, but he kept his
name in consideration.
"I want Republicans to win and we can't do that if our party is fractured,"
he said. "An endorsement today does not put us in a position of strength."
Delegates approved a rule change earlier Saturday that allowed for the "no
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who supports Kleefisch, downplayed the
importance of winning the endorsement, likening it to a straw poll and saying
it's just one indicator of a candidate's strength.
Evers has issued more vetoes than any governor in Wisconsin history in
blocking the Republican-controlled Legislature's agenda. A Republican governor
would give the GOP the power to enact any laws it wished.
The Republican Party has endorsed candidates since 2009, including the past
three governor's races. Winning that backing was crucial to U.S. Sen. Ron
Johnson's win in his first race in 2010. Johnson, who is up for reelection this
year, focused his speech not on Democrats running against him but instead
defending his record and attacking the media.
"I can't even breathe without them taking my exhalation and distorting and
twisting it," Johnson said of the media. "My race is literally about the truth
versus lies and distortion."
Divisions within the Republican Party have been a distraction: Some
Republicans have called for the ouster of Vos for not pursuing former President
Donald Trump's false claims of election fraud vigorously enough and refusing to
decertify President Joe Biden's win.
"We have no ability to decertify the election and go back," Vos said,
generating loud boos from many in the crowd. "We need to focus on moving
All of the GOP gubernatorial candidates have questioned the legitimacy of
Biden's win in Wisconsin, even though the outcome has withstood recounts,
lawsuits, an audit by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau and a review by
the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.
Ramthun, whose campaign for governor is focused on decertifying Biden's win
in 2020, told convention attendees that he would personally perform a "forensic
audit" on both the primary and the general election.
"Election integrity is the No. 1 issue in the state," he said to cheers.
Trump hasn't endorsed anyone in the governor's race primary, but all of the
main candidates except for Nicholson have met with him to try and get his
Republicans also voted not to endorse in the races for lieutenant governor,
attorney general and secretary of state. They did endorse treasurer candidate
Orlando Owens, who is running for an office with almost no official duties or
powers. Johnson, who has no Republican challenger, was also endorsed.
The state Democratic Party convention will be June 25 in La Crosse.
Democrats do not endorse.