MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Donald Trump reasserted his control over Republicans in the Wisconsin primary, but both Democrats and Republicans said Wednesday that the former president’s involvement in key gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races United could hurt them again in the swing state.
Trump’s Pick for Governor and Co-Owner of Construction Company Tim Michels beat the election of established Republicans. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers said that means Michels now “owns” Trump and won’t be able to moderate the general election.
“His relationship with Trump will drive this campaign forward,” Evers told reporters after having breakfast with his new running mate, state Rep. Sarah Rodriguez. “Trump owns him, he owns Trump. That’s his problem, that’s not mine.”
Michels campaign adviser Chris Walker reacted to Evers’ comments in a statement, saying Evers and Biden “will desperately try to do everything they can to distract the people of Wisconsin from their massive failures.”
Michels, in his victory speech, touted himself as the voice of a working class that he said the Democrats have left behind. Evers scoffed at that message, noting that Michels owns a $17 million estate in Connecticut.
“He can wear a blue shirt so he can have a blue collar, but at the end of the day I’m not so sure someone of his status with houses all over the country would be able to say ‘I’m just one of you. ‘” Evers said.
Like Trump, Michels has presented himself as an outsider. Evers dismissed that, too, citing Michels’ work on the boards of powerful lobbying groups, including the state chamber of commerce.
“If he presents himself as an outsider, that’s one of the biggest jokes of this campaign,” Evers said.
Trump narrowly won the state in 2016 and lost by a similar margin in 2020. The most recent Marquette University Law School poll, released in May, showed Trump’s favorability rating in the state was 35%, with 61% having an unfavorable opinion.
In addition to backing Michels, Trump is a staunch supporter of Republican US Senator Ron Johnson, who is running against Mandela Barnes, the current lieutenant governor.
“Trump cuts both ways,” said Republican strategist Brandon Scholz. “Even though he pushes his base and his supporters in the primaries, will that help overall because he turns off as many people as he turns on? … I don’t think we know yet.”
Michels would be smart to focus on Biden, Evers and the issues, not Trump, said Republican strategist Mark Graul.
“I would advise Michels to focus on what matters most to people right now, and that is their concern about the economy, their concern about inflation, their concern about crime,” Graul said.
Evers pointed to recent polling to argue that Michels is out of step with most Wisconsinites on key issues like abortion rights and the outcome of the 2020 election won by President Joe Biden. Trump has continued to push for decertification, which lawyers on both sides and legal experts have dismissed as an unconstitutional impossibility.
Michels has been inconsistent on decertification, saying it was not a priority and later saying “everything will be on the table.” However, Michels wants to dissolve the state’s bipartisan election commission, which was created by Republicans and oversees elections. He also said he would sign a series of bills passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature and vetoed by Evers that would make absentee voting more difficult.
Michels’ victory over former Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, who was endorsed by Mike Pence and Republican legislative leaders, was the clearest victory for a Trump-backed candidate in Wisconsin. A The little-known challenger Trump backed nearly eliminated powerful Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, and a candidate for attorney general who ran on the platform of decertifying Biden’s victory in the state garnered an astonishing 26% of the vote.
In the days leading up to the election, the investigator Vos hired under pressure from Trump to investigate the 2020 election joined Vos challenger Adam Steen on the campaign trail. That investigator, former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, endorsed Steen and appeared at Trump’s rally.
A triumphant Vos declared that his 260-vote victory shows that “you don’t have to be a lapdog for whatever Donald Trump says.” Vos called a meeting of Assembly Republicans for Tuesday to discuss the future of Gableman’s contract, which has cost taxpayers more than $1.1 million and remains subject to five pending lawsuits.
Evers said Vos must fire Gableman or “I’m afraid we’re going to talk about this election for the next 20 years.”
Other Republican incumbents facing conservative challengers easily beat them.. But none of those candidates was endorsed by Trump.