July 15, 2024 2:11 am
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Michels Wins GOP Nod For Governor’s Race; Vos Narrowly Wins Assembly Primary

AP Photo

Erik Gunn

Wisconsin Republicans nominated Tim Michels as the party’s 2022 candidate for governor Tuesday night, choosing the construction company owner who has never held political office over former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch to run against Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in November. 

In a stunning near-upset, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) squeaked to a reelection victory for his Assembly seat over primary challenger Adam Steen. 

“Thanks to you, we took on the Madison establishment and won,” Michels told his supporters when he claimed victory. Unofficial totals showed him with 47% of the vote to Kleefisch’s 42%. State Rep. Tim Ramthun, whose core campaign promise had been to pursue decertification of Wisconsin’s 2020 presidential election, finished with 6%.

Michels spent nearly $8 million of his own money in the first half of 2022 on his campaign after entering the race in April, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.

In her concession speech, Kleefisch swiftly appealed for GOP unity, urging her supporters to “stay in the fight” and pivoting to the November general election.  “Because the fight now is truly against Tony Evers and the liberals who want to take away our way of life,” she said.

In the primary for lieutenant governor, the GOP nominated State Sen. Roger Roth to be Michels’ running mate. Roth, an Appleton Republican, won with 30% of the vote. His closest rival, Sen. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point) came in second with 18% in unofficial totals.

Fond du Lac District Attorney Eric Toney will be the Republican nominee for state attorney general, challenging the Democratic incumbent, Josh Kaul, in November. Toney led with 37.5% of the vote in unofficial totals to 36.9% for former State Rep. Adam Jarchow, a margin of fewer than 3,500 votes with more than 98% of ballots counted. Jarchow tweeted a concession at 1:07 a.m. Wednesday, urging Republicans to unite behind Toney.

Lawyer Karen Meuller posted a third-place finish with more than 25% of the vote in the Republican AG primary. Mueller had stood out for declaring she would investigate hospitals for not using ivermectin to treat COVID-19 patients and for embracing conspiracy claims about the Wisconsin 2020 election, which was won by Joe Biden and which Trump and his allies have tried to overturn.

In one of the most closely watched Democratic primaries in the country, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes quickly put away the nomination to run for U.S. Senate. Barnes’ victory was expected after his three closest rivals dropped out in the last week of July and endorsed him. The Associated Press called the race at 8:27 p.m. with just 4.2% of the votes counted. By the end of the night, Barnes had racked up a 77.8% majority in unofficial totals.

Barnes will run against Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who easily won a primary election over challenger David Schroeder. The race has attracted national attention because Johnson is considered a vulnerable incumbent in a Senate that is  currently split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats.

State Rep. Sara Rodriguez will take Barnes’ place as the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor  in November as Evers seeks a second term. Rodriguez handily won the primary, defeating Peng Her, founder and CEO of the Hmong Institute, who served on Evers’ 2018 transition team by 76% to 23% in unofficial totals

Longtime Democratic Secretary of State Doug La Follette easily  overcame a primary challenger, Alexia Sabor, the Dane County Democratic Party chair, 63% to 36% in unofficial totals. And in the Republican primary for that office, State Rep. Amy Loudenbeck fended off two challengers, Jay Schroeder and Justin Schmidtka. Loudenback had 46% of the vote in unofficial totals to Schroeder’s 40%; Schmidtka had just under 14%.

The secretary of state’s race is likely to come under closer scrutiny this election year than it has been for years. In Wisconsin, the office is not involved in election administration as it is in most states, but Republicans especially have suggested it should have a bigger role in the process.

In the 3rd Congressional District, AP declared State Sen. Brad Pfaff the winner in a four-way race for the Democratic nomination. With 98% of the ballots counted, Pfaff had 39% of the votes. His closest rival in the contest, Rebecca Cooke, had 31%.

Pfaff will face Republican Derrick Van Orden, who ran unopposed, in November, for the seat currently held by Democrat Ron Kind. Kind, who endorsed Pfaff, a former aide, is retiring from the House of Representatives at the end of this year.

The Democratic primary for state treasurer was narrowly decided, with Fitchburg Mayor Aaron Richardson declaring victory  shortly before 2 a.m. With 98% of the ballots counted, Richardson had a margin of about 9,000 votes over Gillian Battino, a Wausau radiologist. Late unnofficial totals showed Richardson with 38% of the vote to 36% for Battino, who entered the race in February after abandoning her U.S. Senate bid. Angelito Tenorio, a West Allis alder who was the first Democrat to seek the post after incumbent Sarah Godlewski decided to forgo a second term, finished third with about 25%  of the vote.

On the Republican side, John Leiber, who ran promising to focus strictly on the post’s core responsibilities of overseeing state assets, handily won over Orlando Owens, southeast regional director for the office of Sen. Ron Johnson. Owens had been endorsed by the Wisconsin Republican convention.

The primary challenge to Vos, who as Assembly speaker has been the most powerful Republican in a state government in which  Democrats currently hold  all the statewide offices, was remarkable for how close it came. 

After falling behind in early counting, Vos pulled through in the 63rd Assembly District with 51% of the votes to Steen’s 49%, a margin of less than 300 votes in unofficial totals.

Steen campaigned against Vos as a career politician, and more specifically for his refusal to back attempts to decertify Wisconsin’s 2020 presidential election — a legal impossibility — after Democrat Joe Biden won over Donald Trump. 

A year ago Vos enlisted former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman to conduct a partisan review of the 2020 presidential election in Wisconsin. That review has uncovered no new information that would change the outcome of the election, but Gableman has made public appeals to Vos to pursue decertifying Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes. 

In the last week the two have become estranged, with Gableman endorsing Steen and recording a robocall for the challenger in which he claimed that Vos never supported his investigation.

At his election watch party, Vos called Gableman “an embarrassment to the state” and said that the future of his investigation would be on the table at an Assembly caucus meeting scheduled for Tuesday, August 16.

This story was updated at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, 8/10/2022, with results in previously outstanding races.

This story was written by Erik Gunn, deputy editor at the Wisconsin Examiner, where this story first appeared.