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As Wisconsin GOP governor candidates race to right, state party may not endorse at convention this weekend

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FILE - LEFT: Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch speaks at an election night event Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018, in Pewaukee, Wis. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps). RIGHT Wisconsin Republican governor candidate Tim Michels before an event Oct. 15, 2004, in Oshkosh, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)

A strange dilemma for Republicans, heading into the state party’s convention this weekend.

Will the Republican Party of Wisconsin endorse one of its four candidates for governor — Kevin Nicholson, Rebecca Kleefisch, Tim Michels, Tim Ramthun?

It’s something Democrats don’t have to deal with. Not simply because nobody in the party is running against Gov. Tony Evers, but because the Democratic Party of Wisconsin doesn’t endorse candidates in a primary.

“Our position is that this is a voter’s decision, not the party’s decision,”  Wisconsin Democratic Party chair Ben Wikler said Thursday on La Crosse Talk PM. “So the Democratic Party’s neutral in primaries, but on the Republican side, they have a tradition of endorsing someone that the Republican Party insiders like. But, this time, the Republican Party insiders are at each other’s throats.”

Perhaps Republicans are reverting back to old ways, where they didn’t endorse a candidate or, as Wikler hinted, maybe it’s because of certain stances the candidates have, as they race to the right to win the GOP primary.

“They’re leapfrogging each other to become the most extreme candidate they can come up with,” Wikler said. “One of them wants to fire everyone at the Wisconsin Elections Commission. Another one wants to dissolve it and put a politician in charge, that there’s only one throat to choke — that’s Rebecca Kleefisch’s phrase. Another one wants to go back and retroactively throw out the 2020 election in Wisconsin, which is something you can’t even constitutionally do. 

“Apparently there’s so much discord within the Republican Party that some of them are against the idea of the party endorsing and some of them are for it. And they had this huge debate.”

The Republican state convention begins at 4 p.m. Friday and runs through Saturday at a hotel in Middleton, Wis. Getting the party’s endorsement requires support from 60% of delegates, though, this year, they have the option of voting to endorse no one.

The Republican Party of Wisconsin did not reply to emails for comment on previewing its state convention.

A recent reputable poll from Public Policy Polling (right) came out that showing, of the four candidates, Michels was leading the race over Kleefisch by one percentage point. Then again, the actual leader of that poll was the vote going toward “unsure.”

No description available.

“I think the race is wide open,” Wikler said. “This still has the “not sure” category. This 29 percent’s the biggest. The biggest candidate is the one where people don’t know who they’re voting for yet.”

Aside from GOP stances of dismantling election oversight, limiting voting, overturning the 2020 election, Wikler also noted other extreme instances, like Kleefisch, Nicholson and others giving a speech in front of a Three Percenters flag in Winnebago County. Three Percenters is an anti-government ideology advocating to violently overthrow democracy.

“I haven’t heard a peep from any Wisconsin Republicans running for governor,” Wikler said, “explaining why they agreed to speak in front of this flag or, at least, condemning it after it was pointed out. Come on.”

Nine Democratic candidates are running for U.S. Senate in Wisconsin to take on incumbent Republican Ron Johnson. Four Democrats are running in the 3rd Congressional District to replace retiring Ron Kind. 

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin, which will hold its convention June 25-26 at the La Crosse Center, will endorse none of them. 

“That’s exactly it, we let everybody speak,” Wikler said. “Everybody has their shot and then ultimately, you know, it’s up to the candidates to run a campaign that earned the support of voters in the primary election to get the nomination. And that is the thing that really predicts whether you can run an effective campaign and win in November.”

Host of WIZM's La Crosse Talk PM | University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point graduate | Hometown: Greenville, Wis | Avid noonball basketball player and sand volleyballer in La Crosse

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