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Wisconsin Republican convention tests GOP primary candidates

There could be a clear leader in the August primary after this weekend's GOP convention
Published: May. 20, 2022 at 4:12 PM CDT|Updated: May. 20, 2022 at 6:19 PM CDT
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MIDDLETON, Wis. (WBAY) - A crowded and highly contested race for governor on the Republican side of the ballot might have a new frontrunner by the end of this weekend.

Candidates in the August primary face their first big test at the party’s state convention, which started Friday in Middleton, about 10 miles west of the state Capitol.

“Coming to Middleton, it’s one of those opportunities to really get the people in Dane County in this area to realize there is another way to do things. We’ve seen it over the last two years with the COVID crush that was on us. We want to get our kids back in our schools. We want to make sure our economy’s on the right track,” Wisconsin Republican Party Chair Paul Farrow said.

Four Republican candidates for governor who met the party’s criteria will speak to delegates at the convention Saturday: Rebecca Kleefisch, Tim Michels, Kevin Nicholson and Timothy Ramthun.

One of them could be endorsed by the party, and that would open the door to additional backing, more donors, more advertising on their behalf.

However, the endorsement process is generating some controversy. Nicholson especially has been vocal, saying it’s not something that should happen ahead of the August primary as a way to influence voters. There is also an option for delegates not to endorse anyone.

Farrow responded to the criticism, “When you talk about the endorsement process, you got to keep in mind the people who are coming here are the influencers in the communities. Those are the individuals who people call up and say, ‘Hey, who should I vote for? What should I be looking at?’ So they’re coming down with a discerning eye to say who is the candidate that should be representing the party as we move forward?”

The debate is a heated one among party insiders.

”I do recognize as a candidate we all want that endorsement early and upfront because that really solidifies where the party stands and where the election is going to go, but for me personally I think it’s important that we hold off and wait until after the primary is done,” State Rep. Rachael Cabral-Guevara (R-Appleton) opined.

The convention started at 2 o’clock Friday afternoon with training sessions. The media were not allowed inside, but we’re told these include election integrity updates, so obviously this will be an issue in the coming months.

Delegates will also vote on more than 45 resolutions. Some demand election integrity, including that all election ballots be counted by hand. There’s support for gun rights, and a Stand Your Ground law similar to what was passed in Florida.

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“When we look at what’s happening and the violence we’re seeing especially in the bigger cities we’ve got to figure out a way to curtail it. People want to make sure they can raise their families, they can have their businesses in safe communities. We know public safety is prominent to everyone’s thoughts,” Farrow said.

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Primary candidates who get the party's endorsement could get additional support and advertising

Democrats will also be watching the results. The chair of the state Democratic Party, Ben Wikler, released a statement calling the Republican convention a “dumpster fire” and saying the GOP candidates for governor have sowed chaos and division. Wikler wrote in part:

“The GOP’s gruesome foursome --Rebecca Kleefisch, Tim Michels, Kevin Nicholson and Timothy Ramthun -- will push each other further to the extremes of every issue. Whether it is disenfranchising voters through lies regarding the 2020 election or advocating for a total ban on abortion, these candidates have said it all in order to pander to the fringe base and Donald Trump.”

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers is running for re-election in November.

Emily Tseffos, Chair of the Outagamie County Democrats, said, “We understand what’s at stake when it comes to our voting rights, when it comes to reproductive rights, and when it comes to the governor’s veto power, and what this state would look like if Roe were overturned, and all of those things.”

“I think that we want to move forward together, and I think that our message is that we want to create communities that are more just, equitable and fair, and that’s what Joe Biden has been doing, that’s what Governor Evers is doing, and that’s what we’re trying to do here in Outagamie County and counties across the state,” Tseffos said.

Wisconsin Democrats are also taking aim at U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, who’s up for re-election and has multiple Democratic candidates running for the opportunity to unseat him.

“Ron Johnson does a really good job for Ron Johnson but not so much for the rest of the people in Wisconsin. That’s why I think that highlighted today at the convention as everyone still tries to appeal to their leader in exile down in Mar-a-Lago, I think it’ll really show there’s a clear difference this fall between any of our democrats running for the U.S. Senate and Ron Johnson,” Congressman Mark Pocan (D-Madison) said.

We’re told Sen. Johnson is the first of many speakers scheduled to take the stage Saturday, starting at 9 A.M. He’ll be followed by some of the Republican candidates for governor and lieutenant governor in the afternoon.

Action 2 News will have complete coverage of the GOP convention this weekend.

The Wisconsin Democratic Convention will be held in La Crosse on June 25 and 26.

Jason Zimmerman reports from the party's convention 10 miles from the state Capitol

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