Donald Trump’s chosen candidate for governor in Wisconsin will win the GOP nomination, CNN projects, underscoring the former President’s clout among Republican primary voters in the latest contest in which he and former Vice President Mike Pence were on opposite sides – and the first since the FBI search of Trump’s Florida resort.
Tim Michels’ defeat of former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch comes as Republicans are looking to unseat Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in November in a critical battleground state that flipped from Trump to Joe Biden in 2020.
Michels, a construction company owner and political neophyte, won Trump’s endorsement by more aggressively amplifying the former President’s 2020 election lies – most notably in the intra-party debate over whether Wisconsin should seek to decertify Biden’s victory there nearly two years ago. Kleefisch was widely considered the favorite early in the campaign. She spent eight years as former Gov. Scott Walker’s second-in-command and enjoyed the broad backing of the state’s powerful GOP establishment.
Wisconsin is the third state in which Trump and Pence have backed opposing candidates for governor. Trump’s choice in Arizona, Kari Lake, a conservative commentator and election denier, narrowly won the nomination, while Pence’s pick in Georgia, incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp, defeated Trump-backed primary challenger David Perdue, a former senator, in a landslide.
But Trump prevailed in the rubber match between the former running mates as the Republican Party finished filling out its slate of nominees for governor in the five states – Wisconsin, Arizona, Michigan, Georgia and Pennsylvania – that flipped from Trump in 2016 to Biden four years later. All are expected to be fiercely contested again in 2024, and GOP victories in those political battlegrounds this fall could help ease Trump’s path back to the White House if he runs again.
Wisconsin was also home to a critical GOP primary in the state legislature, where longtime Assembly Speaker Robin Vos will defeat Trump-backed primary challenger Adam Steen, CNN projects. Steen picked up the Trump endorsement because Vos, in the former President’s estimation, has been insufficiently bullish about right-wing efforts to have the state decertify his defeat. Vos said last month that Trump had called him the week earlier as part of a fresh effort to decertify the results.
Democrats, meanwhile, were very much enjoying the anticlimactic finish to what many expected to be a closely-contested Senate primary. Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes will win the Democratic nomination, CNN projects, after his top rivals all dropped out in a span of a few days. Those departures effectively handed him the nomination and a November showdown with Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, one of Trump’s leading defenders in Washington and a top target for Democrats hoping to preserve or potentially expand their Senate majority.
Also in the Upper Midwest on Tuesday, Republicans in Minnesota picked their candidate to face Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, who is seeking a second term.
Scott Jensen, a doctor and former state lawmaker, had all but clinched the nomination after winning the support of the state party. But he made it official on Tuesday night, CNN projects, cruising past underdogs Joyce Lynne Lacey and Bob “Again” Carney Jr.
Jensen is a longtime critic of Walz, mostly railing against statewide lockdowns during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. But he also suggested hospitals inflated their counts of the sick and questioned the safety and efficacy of the vaccines, which Jensen has said he did not receive.
The race between Walz and Jensen could also help determine the fate of abortion rights in Minnesota. Jensen told Minnesota Public Radio in March that he would “try to ban abortion” if elected, a remark Walz and other Democrats have already seized on. Jensen, late last month, backed off his more aggressive language in remarks, saying he supports exceptions to allow abortion in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at risk. But Democrats, emboldened by Kansas’ vote last week to preserve abortion rights in a statewide referendum, are expected to make the issue a central piece of their fall campaign.
Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, the progressive “squad” member from the state’s 5th Congressional District, will survive a surprisingly close primary challenge, CNN projects, from moderate Don Samuels. Omar beat back a well-funded primary rival in 2020, but Samuels entered this race with higher name recognition in the Minneapolis-based district and the support of a big-spending super PAC.
Voters in the current version of southern Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District chose a replacement to fill the seat of the late Rep. Jim Hagedorn, a Republican who died earlier this year. Republican Brad Finstad will win the special election in the GOP-friendly district, CNN projects. He was running against Democrat Jeffrey Ettinger. Finstad will almost immediately head to Capitol Hill to serve out Hagedorn’s term.
But both candidates were also on the regular primary ballots as they vied for their respective parties’ nominations in a new version the district, which was redrawn ahead of the midterms. Finstad, a former state lawmaker and USDA official in the Trump administration, will win the GOP nomination, CNN projects. Ettinger, the former Hormel Foods chief executive, is expected to win easily on the Democratic side.
History in the making in Vermont
Vermont Democrats will nominate Rep. Peter Welch, CNN projects, to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Patrick Leahy, who will leave office next year after nearly 50 years on the job. Welch’s decision to run for the Senate created a rare open Democratic primary for the state’s lone House seat, setting in motion a contest that will almost certainly end with a history-making election.
State Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint will win the nomination, CNN projects, defeating Lt. Gov. Molly Gray for the nomination to replace Welch in the House. An overwhelming favorite in the fall, Balint is poised 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 the major issues, but their candidacies split the loyalties of Vermont Sens. Bernie Sanders and Leahy. Sanders and leading progressives from around 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. Former Vermont Govs. Howard Dean and Madeleine Kunin also backed Gray.
But in a race that saw the candidates themselves about level on fundraising, a flood of outside spending for Balint likely helped tip the scales. The LGBTQ Victory Fund invested about $1 million into the race for Balint, who is gay. She also benefited from spending by the campaign arm of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, whose chair, Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, along with the progressive senators from neighboring Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, endorsed her.
In Connecticut, there is little jeopardy for Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont or Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal. Both were unopposed in their primaries.
On the GOP side, former state lawmaker Themis Klarides, a moderate, will be bested by Trump-backed Leora Levy, CNN projects. A first-time candidate, Levy will move on to face Blumenthal in November. Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski was, like Lamont, alone on the ballot Tuesday – setting the stage for a rematch of their 2018 race.
This story has been updated with additional developments.