Primary elections in Minnesota and Wisconsin: What to watch




  • In Politics
  • 2022-08-09 16:09:08Z
  • By NBC News

Republican primaries Tuesday in Wisconsin will provide the latest measure of former President Donald Trump's influence and grievance as he dwells on - and continues to lie about - his loss in the 2020 election while considering another White House bid in 2024.

In the race for the nomination to take on Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in the general election, Trump is backing businessman Tim Michels over Rebecca Kleefisch, the state's former lieutenant governor. A third Republican candidate, Tim Rathmun, has trailed in polls.

The final days indicated a close fight to the finish, with neither Kleefisch's deep reservoir of establishment support nor Michels' Trump endorsement pointing to a decisive victory. Michels has treaded cautiously in recent weeks, sending mixed messages about how much he is willing to abide Trump's pressure to decertify President Joe Biden's victory in Wisconsin. He and Kleefisch have both echoed Trump's debunked claims of voter fraud in the state.

Kleefisch's endorsement list includes Scott Walker, the former governor she served with, and former Vice President Mike Pence. The latter's involvement has triggered another GOP proxy war between Trump and his former running mate, who resisted pressure to block certification of the 2020 election and is believed to be laying groundwork for his own 2024 presidential bid.

"If we don't unite after this primary, we won't be able to win and beat Evers," Republican strategist Bill McCoshen, who isn't affiliated with either candidate, told NBC News this week. "He may be considered vulnerable, but he's also a likable guy who has good favorable ratings."

Wisconsin's race for governor is expected to be one of the toughest this fall, with Democrats fighting to hold onto power in Midwest swing states that were key to Biden's win. Trump has prioritized installing election-denying loyalists in governor's mansions and other state offices. The candidates Trump endorsed for governor in Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania - top battlegrounds narrowly won by Biden in 2020 - have advanced to the general election. His efforts to unseat Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican who refused to overturn that state's election results, failed in a primary earlier this year.

The Wisconsin primaries also feature a Trump revenge mission against state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who has refused to overturn the 2020 election results in the state. Trump last week endorsed Vos' primary rival Adam Steen.

There is less suspense, meanwhile, in the Senate races. Democrats in recent weeks cleared the field for Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who is expected to face Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, a Trump ally, in another key matchup this fall.

Image: Democratic Senate Candidate Mandela Barnes Campaigns In Milwaukee (Scott Olson / Getty Images)
Image: Democratic Senate Candidate Mandela Barnes Campaigns In Milwaukee (Scott Olson / Getty Images)  

Connecticut, Minnesota and Vermont also are holding primaries Tuesday.

Another Trump-backed candidate is on the ballot in Connecticut. The former president last week endorsed Leora Levy in the state's GOP Senate primary while blasting her rival, Themis Klarides, for accepting support from establishment figures. Regardless of which Republican wins, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, the Democratic incumbent, would enter the general election as the favorite in the heavily Democratic state.

In Vermont's at-large congressional district, state Sen. Becca Balint and Lt. Gov. Molly Gray are the leading contenders in the Democratic primary and either would be heavily favored to win against the Republican and make history this fall. Vermont is the only state that has never sent a woman to Congress. Balint is the Vermont Senate's first openly gay president pro tempore.

The House seat is open because Rep. Peter Welch, a Democrat, is seeking the seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, also a Democrat. Welch is expected to win his primary Tuesday. Former U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan and Army veteran Gerald Malloy are among the Republicans competing for the nomination.

In Minnesota, which has leaned Democratic in recent years but can be competitive, Republicans will pick nominees to face Democratic Gov. Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison this fall. Scott Jensen, a physician and former state senator, is favored in the gubernatorial primary. Doug Wardlow - the GOP's losing candidate for attorney general in 2018 and a lawyer for My Pillow, the company founded by prominent Trump ally and election denier Mike Lindell - is trying again. He faces a challenge from newcomer Jim Schultz.

Minnesota's 1st Congressional District also is hosting a special election Tuesday to fill the remaining months of Rep. Jim Hagedorn's term. Hagedorn, a Republican, died in February. Republican Brad Finstad, a former state lawmaker and U.S. Department of Agriculture official, is running against Democrat Jeff Ettinger, the former CEO of Hormel Foods.

In an unusual twist, Finstad and Ettinger are also candidates in Tuesday primaries that will determine who runs in the November general election to represent new 1st District boundaries that take effect next year.

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