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Wisconsin Republicans agree on ‘no endorsement’ option

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
Published: May. 21, 2022 at 11:25 AM CDT
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MIDDLETON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Republicans agreed Saturday to have a “no endorsement” option when voting on whether to throw the party’s official backing behind a candidate in the hotly contested governor’s race.

The top candidates in the governor’s race were slated to make their pitch later Saturday for an endorsement to more than 1,500 delegates attending the annual convention near Madison. But first, under pressure from those who argued the party shouldn’t back any candidate before the Aug. 9 primary, delegates voted to have an option of not endorsing.

Winning the endorsement requires support from 60% of delegates.

The party’s endorsement is important because it unlocks funding from the state party, which can then spend as much as it wants on the winner. Being united is all the more important when facing an incumbent such as Gov. Tony Evers in a race that’s a top priority for Democrats nationally.

The Republican Party has endorsed candidates since 2009, including the past three governor’s races. Winning that backing was crucial to U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson’s win in his first race in 2010. Johnson, who is up for reelection this year, focused his speech not on Democrats running against him but instead defending his record and attacking the media.

“I can’t even breathe without them taking my exhalation and distorting and twisting it,” Johnson said of the media. “My race is literally about the truth versus lies and distortion.”

He called for Republicans to unify to “defeat the radical left,” likening the upcoming election to the American Revolution and a “fight for freedom.” Johnson called on Republicans to run on issues such as backing law enforcement, growing the economy and protecting the border.

The gubernatorial candidates are former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who polls show is the front-runner; construction business co-owner Tim Michels; business consultant and former Marine Kevin Nicholson; and state Rep. Timothy Ramthun.

Nicholson advocated for no endorsement, but he still wants his name in consideration.

Whether there is an endorsement or not, voters will decide who advances to face Evers in November. The primary is Aug. 9.

Beating Evers and reelecting Johnson are priorities for Wisconsin Republicans this year. But divisions within the party have been a distraction; Some Republicans have called for the ouster of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos for not pursuing former President Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud vigorously enough and refusing to decertify President Joe Biden’s win.

“We have no ability to decertify the election and go back,” Vos said, generating loud boos from many in the crowd. “We need to focus on moving forward.”

All of the GOP gubernatorial candidates have questioned the legitimacy of Biden’s win in Wisconsin.

Ramthun, whose campaign for governor is focused on decertifying Biden’s win in 2020, said recently that Vos should be prosecuted over his response to the election.

Trump will hang heavy over the two-day convention. He hasn’t endorsed anyone in the governor’s race primary, but all of the main candidates except for Nicholson have met with him to try and get his blessing.

In addition to the governor’s race, Republicans will be voting on endorsements for statewide races for lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer. The state Democratic Party convention will be June 25 in La Crosse. Democrats do not endorse.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.