by Donald Trump the chosen candidate for governor of Wisconsin will win the GOP nomination, CNN Projectsunderscoring the former president’s influence among Republican primary voters in the last contest in which he and former Vice President Mike Pence were opposed – and the first since FBI research of Trump’s Florida resort.
Tim Michels’ loss to former Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch comes as Republicans seek to unseat Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in November in a critical battleground state that has gone from Trump to Joe Biden in 2020.
Michels, a construction company owner and political neophyte, won Trump’s endorsement by more aggressively amplifying the former president’s lies in the 2020 election — notably in the intra-party debate over the issue of whether Wisconsin should seek to decertify Biden’s victory nearly two years ago. Kleefisch was widely seen as the favorite at the start of the campaign. She spent eight years as second-in-command to former Gov. Scott Walker and enjoyed broad support from the state’s powerful GOP establishment.
Wisconsin is the third state in which Trump and Pence have endorsed opposing gubernatorial candidates. Trump’s choice in Arizona, Kari Lake, a conservative commentator and election denier, narrowly won the nomination, while Pence’s choice in Georgia, incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp, beat Trump-backed chief challenger David Lost, a former senator, in a landslide.
But Trump prevailed in the rubber match between the former running mates as the Republican Party finished filling out its slate of gubernatorial candidates in the five states – Wisconsin, Arizona, Michigan, Georgia and Pennsylvania – that went from Trump to 2016 to Biden four years later. All are set to be fiercely contested again in 2024, and GOP victories on those political battlegrounds this fall could help mitigate Trump’s path to the White House if he runs again.
Wisconsin is also home to a critical GOP primary in the state legislature, where longtime Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, an arch-conservative who mostly followed Trump’s 2020 campaign demands, is challenged by Adam Steen, who won an endorsement from Trump because Vos, in the former president’s view, was not optimistic enough about right-wing efforts to get the state to decertify its defeat.
Democrats, meanwhile, were thoroughly enjoying the disappointing end to what many expected to be a hotly contested Senate primary. Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes will win the Democratic nomination, according to CNN plans, after his main rivals all abandoned in a few days. These departures effectively earned him the nomination and a November showdown with Republican Senator Ron Johnson, one of Trump’s main defenders in Washington and a prime target for Democrats hoping to preserve or potentially expand their Senate majority.
Also on Tuesday in the Upper Midwest, Republicans in Minnesota will choose their candidate to face Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, who is seeking a second term.
Scott Jensen, a physician and former state legislator, had all but snagged the nomination after securing state party support. But he made it official on Tuesday night, CNN projects, moving past underdogs Joyce Lynne Lacey and Bob “Again” Carney Jr.
Jensen has been a longtime critic of Walz, mostly railing against statewide lockdowns at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. But he also suggested hospitals were inflating their sickness numbers and questioning the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, which Jensen said he had not received.
The race between Walz and Jensen could also help determine the fate of abortion rights in Minnesota. Jensen told Minnesota Public Radio in March that he would “try to outlaw abortion” if elected, a remark Walz and other Democrats have seized on before. Jensen, late last month, backed off from his more aggressive language in his remarks, saying he supported exceptions to allow abortion in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is in danger. . But the Democrats emboldened by Kansas vote last week to preserve abortion rights in a statewide referendum, are expected to make the issue a central part of their fall campaign.
Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, the progressive “squad” member of the state’s 5th congressional district, will survive a surprisingly close primary challenge, CNN Projects, from moderate Don Samuels. Omar fended off a well-funded primary rival in 2020, but Samuels entered that race with greater name recognition in the Minneapolis-based district and the backing of a big-spending super PAC.
Voters in present-day southern Minnesota 1st Congressional District will choose a replacement to fill the seat of the late Rep. Jim Hagedorn, a Republican who died earlier this year. The special election in the GOP-friendly district includes Republican Brad Finstad and Democrat Jeffrey Ettinger. The winner will almost immediately travel to Capitol Hill to serve out Hagedorn’s term.
But both candidates also appeared on regular primary ballots as they competed for their respective parties’ nominations in a new version of the district, which was redesigned before the mid-terms. Finstad, a former state legislator and USDA official in the Trump administration, will win the GOP nomination, CNN projects. Ettinger, the former chief executive of Hormel Foods, is expected to win easily on the Democratic side.
Vermont Democrats will nominate CNN Projects Rep. Peter Welch to fill the seat of incumbent Sen. Patrick Leahy, who leave the office next year after almost 50 years of work. Welch’s decision to run for the Senate created a rare open Democratic primary for the state’s only House seat, sparking a contest that will almost certainly end in a historic election.
State Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Becca Balint will win the nomination, CNN projects, beating Lt. Gov. Molly Gray for the nomination to replace Welch in the House. An overwhelming favorite in the fall, Balint is set to become the first woman elected to Congress from Vermont, which is the only state that has never sent a woman to represent it at the federal level.
Little separated Balint and Gray on major issues, but their candidacies split the loyalties of the Vermont Sens. Bernie Sanders and Leahy. Sanders and leading progressives across the country endorsed Balint. Gray had the support of Leahy, who donated to her cause and said he voted for her, although he did not issue a formal endorsement in the race. Past Governors of Vermont. Howard Dean and Madeleine Kunin also supported Gray.
But in a race that has seen the candidates themselves roughly fundraising, a flood of outside spending for Balint likely helped tip the scales. The LGBTQ Victory Fund has invested around $1 million in the race for Balint, who is gay. It also benefited from spending by the campaign arm of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, whose chairwoman, Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, as well as progressive senators from neighboring Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, endorsed it.
In Connecticut, there is little danger for Democratic Governor Ned Lamont or Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal. Both were unopposed in their primaries.
On the GOP side, former state legislator Themis Klarides, a moderate, will be beaten by Trump-backed Leora Levy, CNN Projects. A first-time contender, Levy will face Blumenthal in November. Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski was, like Lamont, alone on the ballot on Tuesday – setting the stage for a rematch of their 2018 race.
This story has been updated with additional developments.