Wisconsin Republican strategist predicts competitive primary this year

TMJ4's Chief Political Reporter Charles Benson looks at governor's race after Kevin Nicholson officially jumped in Thursday.
state capitol
Posted at 6:32 PM, Jan 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-28 09:51:38-05

The Wisconsin governor's race now has a new name and it will change the dynamics of the republican primary.

Kevin Nicholson is now running as a candidate and wants to shake up the Republican party to take on Democrats who have won 11 out 12 statewide elections since 2018.

Former Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch has been out on the campaign trail for months raising money and picking up key GOP endorsements.

"I think we're going to have a competitive primary for the next 195 days," says Republican strategist Bill McCoshen, a partner at Michael Best Strategies. He sees Kleefisch and Nicholson competing for not only the same Republican voters, but perhaps the direction of the GOP party.

Benson: You talk about a clean, competitive primary, but are we in that environment?

McCoshen: I think Kevin Nicholson is going to run as an outsider. I think that's pretty clear. He's gonna run as an anti-establishment candidate. I got to be honest, there's a market for that message within the GOP today and Donald Trump proved that in '16 and '20.

McCoshen, a former Commerce Secretary under Governor Tommy Thompson, thought about jumping into the 2022 governor's race but eventually decide against it.

Nicholson is hoping the Wisconsin Republican party doesn't do what it did in 2018 when it endorsed Leah Vukmir to give her an edge in the primary against Nicholson.

Benson: Why all the worry about trying to endorse someone before the primary?

McCoshen: I'm not a fan of the party endorsement and here's why. There will be 1,200 people maximum that turnout at the GOP convention in this spring. There'll be 500,000 GOP primary voters in August so I don't think 1,200 people should have proxy for 500,000 people.

Republican Senator Ron Johnson, who is running for a third term, sees it differently.

Johnson won his party's backing in 2010 and encourages the gubernatorial candidates to win an endorsement this year.

"If you can't do that, your chances of winning the primary are quite slim, and a divisive primary is going to reduce our chance of winning the governorship," said Johnson.

But the two term Senator says he will not endorse a candidate himself. All eyes are on former president Donald Trump to see if he will endorse a candidate . President Trump's first choice for governor was former Congressman Sean Duffy, who declined to run.

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