Primary election: Wisconsin GOP governor’s primary tests Trump’s influence amid FBI research news
Wisconsin is the third state in which Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence have backed opposing GOP gubernatorial candidates. Pence backed former Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, who initially appeared to be the party favorite in the primary. But Kleefisch, who served two terms as second-in-command to former Gov. Scott Walker, has been locked in a close race with Tim Michels, a construction company owner who was endorsed by Trump and went over away by embracing his 2020 election lies — mostly by engaging in efforts to decertify President Joe Biden’s victory in the state. Kleefisch was more circumspect, unleashing Trump’s attacks.
The rubber match between the former running mates will settle the Republican Party’s slate of gubernatorial candidates in states that went from Trump in 2016 to Biden four years later – Wisconsin, Arizona, Michigan, Georgia and Pennsylvania. All five are expected to be fiercely contested again in 2024, and GOP victories on those political battlegrounds this fall could help ease Trump’s return to the White House should he run again.
Wisconsin is also home to a critical GOP primary in the state legislature, where longtime Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, an arch-conservative who mostly followed Trump’s 2020 campaign demands, is challenged by Adam Steen, who won Trump’s endorsement because Vos, in the former president’s view, was not optimistic enough about right-wing efforts to get the state to decertify its defeat.
Also on Tuesday in the Upper Midwest, Republicans in Minnesota will choose their candidate to face Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, who is seeking a second term.
Scott Jensen, a physician and former state legislator, nearly clinched the nomination after winning state party support. He faces Joyce Lynne Lacey and Bob “Again” Carney Jr., both heavy underdogs, in the primary. Jensen has been a longtime critic of Walz, mostly railing against statewide lockdowns at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. But he also suggested hospitals were inflating their sickness numbers and questioning the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, which Jensen said he had not received.
History in the making in Vermont
State Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Becca Balint will win the nomination, CNN projects, beating Lt. Gov. Molly Gray for the nomination to replace Welch in the House. An overwhelming favorite in the fall, Balint is set to become the first woman elected to Congress from Vermont, which is the only state that has never sent a woman to represent it at the federal level.
Little separated Balint and Gray on major issues, but their candidacies split the loyalties of the Vermont Sens. Bernie Sanders and Leahy. Sanders and leading progressives across the country endorsed Balint. Gray had the support of Leahy, who donated to her cause and said he voted for her, although he did not issue a formal endorsement in the race. Past Governors of Vermont. Howard Dean and Madeleine Kunin also supported Gray.
But in a race that has seen the candidates themselves roughly fundraising, a flood of outside spending for Balint likely helped tip the scales. The LGBTQ Victory Fund has invested around $1 million in the race for Balint, who is gay. It also benefited from spending by the campaign arm of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, whose chairwoman, Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, as well as progressive senators from neighboring Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, endorsed it.
In Connecticut, there is little danger for Democratic Governor Ned Lamont or Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal. Both were unopposed in their primaries.
On the GOP side, former state legislator Themis Klarides is the favorite to win the nomination to face Blumenthal in November. Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski was, like Lamont, alone on the ballot on Tuesday – setting the stage for a rematch of their 2018 run.
This story has been updated with additional developments.