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Trump and Pence are at odds over Wisconsin's GOP gubernatorial primary


Voters in 36 states will have a chance to pick their governor this year, but only a few states have races that are considered extremely competitive. Wisconsin is one of them. Democrat Tony Evers won in 2018 by little more than one percentage point. And Republican voters today will pick between two candidates with two very different visions of their party. One is endorsed by former President Trump, the other by former Vice President Pence. Wisconsin Public Radio's Shawn Johnson is in Madison. Shawn, so tell us about these two GOP candidates with dueling endorsements.

SHAWN JOHNSON, BYLINE: You really have two candidates who are on different sides of this GOP power struggle. On the one side, there's Rebecca Kleefisch, the former lieutenant governor who served under former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker for eight years. She's endorsed by Pence and a long list of Republicans in Wisconsin. On the other side, you have Tim Michels, a businessman who labels himself as an outsider. He spent a lot of his own money in this race, and importantly, was endorsed by Trump late in the game. That shook everything up in the race. Michels shot up in the polls. But now it's looking really competitive against Kleefisch as voters head to the polls today.

MARTINEZ: Now, we've seen this before - former President Trump and former Vice President Pence endorsing opposing candidates. That happened in Georgia and Arizona, now here in Wisconsin. Have they weighed in on other state races?

JOHNSON: Pence no, but Trump specifically has endorsed a few candidates in Wisconsin. You have the governor's race, which is interesting. But there's also this other endorsement in really a local race for the state legislature, where the incumbent - our assembly speaker, Robin Vos - has repeatedly feuded with Trump and refused his calls to try to overturn the 2020 election, saying that's impossible. That's put him at odds with Trump. Trump has endorsed his primary opponent, Adam Steen. And so you essentially have that issue on the ballot in that race, but it's also a potential risk for Trump. You know, Vos has a long history of power here in Wisconsin, and that's a race where, you know, Trump's endorsement won't necessarily carry the day. It's a risky one for the former president.

MARTINEZ: All right. So it looks like the governor's race could be very close again this November. What are you looking for in that one?

JOHNSON: Well, I mean, we're just used to close races here in Wisconsin at this point, where it seems like they're all decided by around a percentage point. Governor Tony Evers won by a sliver four years ago. His approval rating is still pretty good in Wisconsin, given the potential political headwinds here. Republicans have really blamed him for being too strict on COVID policies. He has spent most of his time vetoing Republican bills. He vetoed a record number of Republican bills this last session. So if Evers were to lose, it would be a political sea change in Wisconsin. All of these measures that he's vetoed and everything from, you know, making it easier to carry concealed guns to any number of changes to election laws, would likely become law under a Republican governor, whether it's Michels or Kleefisch.

MARTINEZ: All right. That's Shawn Johnson, state Capitol bureau chief for Wisconsin Public Radio. Shawn, thanks a lot.

JOHNSON: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Shawn Johnson covers the State Capitol for Wisconsin Public Radio. Shawn joined the network in 2004. Prior to that he worked for WUIS-FM, a public radio station in Springfield, Illinois. There, Shawn reported on the Illinois legislature. He also managed the station's western Illinois bureau, where he produced features on issues facing rural residents. He previously worked as an Assistant Producer for WBBM-AM radio in Chicago.