Via NBC News:
BROOKFIELD, Wis. — The Republican gubernatorial primary in Wisconsin initially appeared to be Rebecca Kleefisch’s for the taking.
Kleefisch, the former lieutenant governor, launched a well-funded campaign nice and early, in September, and speedily commanded a lead over lesser-known opponents, enjoying significant name recognition from her eight years as Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s No. 2.
But in April, a co-owner of a successful family pipeline construction company, Tim Michels, jumped into the race, spent millions of dollars of his own money and won the endorsement of former President Donald Trump. Many thought he’d pull away.
That didn’t happen, either.
Now, as voters head to the polls Tuesday in this pivotal battleground state, the race has turned into a dogfight. The Republicans are locked in a tight race, according to the latest polling. Michels and political groups supporting him have blanketed the airwaves in negative ads while Kleefisch races around the state holding events and urging supporters to knock on doors and turn out friends and family.
A third candidate, state Rep. Tim Ramthun, has polled behind. He has vocally backed Trump’s futile quest to decertify the state’s 2020 election results, which isn’t possible or legal.
It’s all part of the final sprint in an intensely watched and close governor’s race that will determine who gets the chance to try to unseat Gov. Tony Evers, one of the most vulnerable Democratic governors in the country. The outcome of the general election will have implications for abortion rights and education, as well as elections. Trump, who lost Wisconsin and other swing states to President Joe Biden, has focused on handpicking candidates for statewide offices all over the country that have oversight of the vote as he eyes another bid for the presidency in 2024.
The race has emerged as a proxy war between Trump and the state’s establishment, including Walker and other non-Trump Republicans, like former Vice President Mike Pence — even though Michels and Kleefisch don’t diverge significantly on any one policy issue.
In just the past week, both the former president and his former No. 2 have descended on Waukesha County, the suburban Republican stronghold whose voters are likely key.
On Wednesday, Pence stumped for Kleefisch there with Walker, saying, “There is no candidate for governor in America that is more capable, more experienced or a more proven conservative than Rebecca Kleefisch.”
Two days later, Trump held a rally in Waukesha for Michels, bashing Kleefisch as the “handpicked candidate of the failed establishment, the RINOs, the Washington swamp.”
RINO is short for “Republicans in name only.”