Wisconsin Primary Election: Kleefisch concedes GOP governor primary

Rebecca Kleefisch conceded the Wisconsin Republican primary for governor Tuesday night, Aug. 9 to Tim Michels. 

In her concession speech, Kleefisch said, "The fight now is truly against Tony Evers and the liberals who want to take away our way of life."

Kleefisch served eight years as lieutenant governor under Scott Walker. She has won statewide elections four times. She was endorsed by former Vice President Mike Pence and had backing from establishment Republicans, including ex-Gov. Scott Walker.

Kleefisch said she is a conservative reformer and touted her experience in the Walker administration. It was during that time that the Wisconsin Legislature passed Act 10, which effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers.

Kleefisch said her experience in office is what sets her apart. As governor, she said she would reduce state income taxes, abolish the Wisconsin Elections Commission and she criticized the Evers administration for not enforcing a state ban on abortions.

Kleefisch has said she thought the 2020 election was rigged but would not decertify the results.

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Kleefisch did not win the endorsement of former President Donald Trump but is backed by former Vice President Mike Pence, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and former South Carolina Governor and Ambassador Nikki Haley. She also has a large law enforcement backing that includes endorsements from the Milwaukee Police Association and Wisconsin Fraternal Order of Police.

The governor’s race was the latest proxy war between Trump and Pence, one-time partners who have backed opposing candidates in other swing states as they try to push the GOP in different directions.

Tuesday’s outcomes have far-reaching consequences beyond Wisconsin, a state that is almost evenly split between Republicans and Democrats and where 2022 will be seen as a bellwether for the 2024 presidential race. The person elected governor this fall will be in office for the presidential election and will be able to sign or veto changes to election laws passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature. The next governor and U.S. senator also may sway decisions on issues from abortion to education and taxes.

Evers has made voting and elections a focus of his own campaign, telling voters he’s the only candidate who will defend democracy and "we are that close to not having our vote count in the state of Wisconsin."

Both Michels and Kleefisch said overturning the 2020 election results was not a priority. But they said they would dismantle the bipartisan commission that runs Wisconsin elections and would support prohibitions on voters having someone else turn in their absentee ballots, as well as ballot drop boxes located anywhere other than staffed clerk offices.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.