Kleefisch downplays Trump endorsement on final swing

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican candidate for governor Rebecca Kleefisch downplayed Donald Trump’s endorsement and rally for her opponent during her final campaign push across Wisconsin Monday, and declined to respond to the former president’s criticisms.

Kleefisch faces Trump-endorsed Tim Michels in Tuesday’s primary, with the winner advancing to face Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. Trump derided Kleefisch as “a career politician and a political insider” during a rally for Michels in suburban Milwaukee on Friday night. He called her the “handpicked candidate of the failed establishment.”

When asked at an early morning campaign stop Monday whether she had any comment on Trump’s criticisms, Kleefisch responded: “No thoughts that I can share.”

The Michels campaign sent an email Monday casting the election as a fight between Trump backers and Republicans who oppose him.

“If we don’t get Trump supporters to the polls to vote for Tim Michels on Tuesday, the Never Trumpers will win like they did in 2020 when they encouraged Wisconsin conservatives to vote for anyone except Trump,” the email said. If Kleefisch wins, the Michels campaign said, “the media will falsely report Wisconsinites have rejected Trump’s endorsement.”

Kleefisch, a former two-term lieutenant governor, downplayed the Trump endorsement of Michels, saying she didn’t know whether it would help or hurt Michels with primary voters. Michels co-owns the state’s largest construction company, Michels Corp.

“To me, the only endorsements that are going to matter, ultimately, are the ones that are counted tomorrow night from the people of Wisconsin,” Kleefisch said. She is backed by former Vice President Mike Pence, who campaigned for her in Wisconsin last week, GOP legislative leaders and a majority of county sheriffs.

Both Kleefisch and Michels say decertifying the 2020 presidential election won by President Joe Biden in Wisconsin is not a priority. They both also said at a town hall last week that they would accept the results of Tuesday’s election. Longshot candidate state Rep. Tim Ramthun, who is running on the platform of decertifying the 2020 presidential election, is also on the ballot and said last week that he too would accept the results.

Michels was spending the day before the election attending a private event for cancer research, attending the Wisconsin State Fair in the afternoon, then hosting a rally with supporters in Delafield. Kleefisch was traveling across the state, with multiple stops before ending in Brookfield, close to where Michels will be, in suburban Milwaukee’s Waukesha County.

In Madison on Monday, Kleefisch touted herself as the “only proven conservative reformer” in the primary, while also keeping focused on Evers, a former state superintendent for schools.

“There is nobody better to take it to Tony Evers on education than a p——- off mom,” Kleefisch said.

One of Kleefisch’s backers, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, is being challenged by Trump-backed candidate Adam Steen. He wants to decertify the 2020 election, while Vos opposes it because it is unconstitutional. Trump at his Friday rally announced that the former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice hired by Vos to investigate the election was backing Steen.

Michael Gableman recorded a robocall in support of Steen, saying Vos “never wanted a real investigation into the 2020 election in Wisconsin.” Taxpayers have spent more than $1.1 million on Gableman’s investigation. He was paid $11,000 a month by taxpayers under the contract Vos signed.

“Justice Gableman knows overturning the election is both unconstitutional and impossible,” Vos said in a statement. “His attempts to lie to voters and gain favor with Adam Steen are sad and show how desperate he is to remain relevant.”

WisPolitics.com first reported on Gableman’s robocall.

Gableman was also slated to appear at a late Monday afternoon “Vos Tossing Slingshot Contest” with Steen, whose campaign said a “puppet representation” of Vos would be shot across a field using a bungee slingshot.

Also on the ballot Tuesday, Democrats will be picking their nominee for U.S. Senate to take on Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson. Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes has emerged as the clear frontrunner after his top opponents dropped out and endorsed him. There are also primaries for lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer and attorney general on the Republican side.

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