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ELECTION 2022 | GOP GUBERNATORIAL DEBATE

Tim Michels takes heat for absence from GOP gubernatorial debate

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Four podiums stood on the stage for a Green Bay debate between GOP gubernatorial candidates seeking to unseat Democratic Gov. Tony Evers this fall, but the podium on the left for millionaire businessman Tim Michels sat empty.

Rebecca Kleefisch

Kleefisch

Michels’ absence was a consistent talking point by former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, management consultant Kevin Nicholson and state Rep. Timothy Ramthun, R-Campbellsport, who participated in the Monday debate hosted by private Christian school Providence Academy and moderated by WTAQ-AM conservative radio host Joe Giganti.

“If you aren’t here tonight in front of a moderator who wants a Republican to win in November, then you’re not prepared to go through what you have to go through to win the general election,” Nicholson said when asked why it was important for him to attend Monday’s debate.

Michels, the millionaire co-owner of Brownsville-based Michels Corp. who earlier this month secured an endorsement from former President Donald Trump, held a “Freedom Rally” at Midwestern Shooters Supply in Lomira Monday. Businessman Adam Fischer is also running in the GOP primary.

“I thank my opponents who bothered to show up here tonight,” Kleefisch said, pausing to clear her throat in a reference to Michels’ absence.

Timothy Ramthun

Ramthun

About 30 minutes into the debate, Giganti asked all three candidates to respond to a question he had planned to ask Michels relating to the business owner’s pledge to largely self-fund his campaign and his longstanding ties to lobbying groups.

“Anybody who runs for office and says they’re not going to take any money is not being truthful to you,” Ramthun said, adding that “I think there’s gray clouds all over the place” with regard to Michels’ campaign.

Nicholson, meanwhile, pointed to questions raised earlier this year regarding whether Michels had spent most of the past nine years in Wisconsin or in the New York City area, including at a $17 million home in Greenwich, Connecticut, that he purchased in late 2020.

Kevin Nicholson

Nicholson

Michels, who also owns a home in Hartland, has refuted questions of his Wisconsin residency, adding that he’s consistently paid taxes in Wisconsin, though his children attended and graduated from high schools in Connecticut and New York City.

Michels’ campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

“Some candidates think the path to victory is to tear other Republicans apart and divide the party,” Michels tweeted Monday. “I’m a builder. I’m building a strong collation of voters from all across the state to beat Tony Evers, and that’s what I’m focused on.”

Election

Ramthun touted himself as the “only MAGA candidate” on the ballot, referencing his efforts to decertify the 2020 election, an effort that has received bipartisan criticism as a constitutional impossibility.

Asked if they feel the 2020 election was stolen, Kleefisch’s mic was cut off after she refused to provide a yes or no answer, but she said “the election was rigged from the beginning.”

Responding to the same question, Nicholson said “illegal conduct occurred, but I’ll stop right there.”

A recount, court decisions and multiple reviews have affirmed that President Joe Biden defeated Trump in Wisconsin by almost 21,000 votes. Only 24 people out of nearly 3.3 million who cast ballots have been charged with election fraud in Wisconsin.

All three candidates participating in Monday’s event also praised the conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn its landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade. They also said, if elected governor, they would actively fire district attorneys who refuse to enforce Wisconsin’s 1849 law, which prohibits doctors from providing abortions unless the procedure is necessary to protect the mother’s life and contains no exemptions for rape and incest. It’s enforceability remains an open question.

“The lack of accountability in our state and in our nation has caused much of our dilemma and our problems today and to have public officials state they are in full opposition to a law and they will violate it … means they need to be removed from that seat yesterday,” Ramthun said.

Polling

Marquette Law School’s June poll, the first to include Michels, who joined the race in late April, found that 27% of Republican primary voters support Michels, while 26% support Kleefisch. Nicholson received 10% of support from Republican primary voters, the same he received in April, while Ramthun’s support went from 4% to 3%.

The poll has a margin of error of 6.3% among GOP primary voters, and 32% of respondents remain undecided, down from 46% of respondents in April.

The winner of the Aug. 9 primary will go on to face Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who is seeking a second term, in the Nov. 8 election.

Candidates and party officials at the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s state convention in La Crosse over the weekend touted the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade as motivation to unite and secure statewide victories this fall.

“Whether it’s opposing access to health care, spreading lies about the 2020 election, or slashing funding for public education, we expect Republicans at both events to continue to show that they are out of step with voters and too radical for Wisconsin,” Democratic Party of Wisconsin Rapid Response Director Hannah Menchhoff said in a statement Monday.

At the same time, Democrats must overcome the historical challenges the party in presidential power almost always faces during midterm elections. In addition to surging gas prices and inflation, Marquette Law School polling earlier this month found that voter enthusiasm is higher among Republican voters.

Delegates attending the Republican Party of Wisconsin’s annual convention last month chose not to endorse a candidate in several statewide races, including for governor. The decision means the state party will not provide funding or resources to a preferred candidate until after a nominee is selected in the Aug. 9 primary.

While none of the gubernatorial candidates received enough votes to secure the party’s endorsement, Kleefisch easily won the majority of votes, coming in just about six percentage points short of the 60% needed for an endorsement. Ramthun, Nicholson and Michels each received less than 6%.

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