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Wisconsin Republicans wrestle over candidate endorsements

Wisconsin Republicans are squabbling over the process of endorsing candidates for the fall election, with the state party considering a “no endorsement” option for the first time in more than a decade
FILE - Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Feb. 8, 2022.
FILE - Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Feb. 8, 2022.(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
Published: Apr. 5, 2022 at 10:02 AM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Republicans are squabbling over the process of endorsing candidates for the fall election, with the state party considering a “no endorsement” option for the first time in more than a decade.

The divide within the GOP comes as Republicans are trying to win back the governor's office and reelect U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson. Some Republicans, including gubernatorial candidate Kevin Nicholson and a growing number of county parties, are calling for an end to the endorsement process entirely, the Wisconsin State Journal reported Tuesday.

The drama is largely playing out behind the scenes but will come to a head in May at the state party's annual convention. That's where delegates vote on who wins the party's endorsement for all statewide races, which opens the door to money and other resources to help that candidate in the Aug. 9 primary and beyond.

Mark Jefferson, executive director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, told the Wisconsin State Journal that he anticipates the convention’s rules committee will meet before the convention to determine whether or not to allow a “no endorsement” option on the upcoming ballot. And no matter the outcome of that vote, Jefferson said he expects convention attendees to also vote on the question.

The state GOP's 2022 endorsement policy was approved by the party’s executive committee in December and stipulates that by March 15, candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general must raise at least $50,000 in campaign donations from at least 300 individual donors — not including contributions from the candidates, their immediate families or most political action committees. Candidates for governor or U.S. Senate must raise at least $100,000 from at least 1,000 individual donors.

The party’s executive committee will determine the full list of names to be included on the endorsement ballot in the coming weeks.

Lieutenant governor candidate Ben Voelkel, a former senior aide to Johnson who met the necessary threshold to seek the party’s endorsement, said he thinks it’s a mistake to limit the number of candidates who are able to speak at the convention, which will be attended by hundreds of county delegates from across Wisconsin.

Nicholson told the state Republican Party in February that he wasn't seeking an endorsement and urged the party not to endorse any candidates before the primary. However, he later asked that delegates consider including his name on the endorsement ballot, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Nicholson reiterated in a statement to supporters Friday that he opposes the state party’s endorsement process, but said he has asked that his name be included on the ballot as a stand-in for a “no endorsement” option.

The party used to allow a “no endorsement” option, but that was removed in 2009. Candidates must secure 60% of the delegates' votes to receive an endorsement.

Johnathan Wichmann launched his campaign for governor about two years ago before switching to the lieutenant governor race in February.

Wichmann, who also has been invited to speak at the state’s convention, said a fundraising requirement ensures that every candidate on the endorsement ballot has proven their ability to be viable in a statewide election.

“The ones who are making the biggest stink about it are the ones who didn’t qualify or didn’t get enough support,” he said. “They understand (a party endorsement) is a bonus. I just feel they’re making a big stink because they didn’t get enough traction.”