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Aug. 9, 2022, 7:48 p.m. EDT

A ‘few percentage points in Wisconsin may well determine what the course of the nation is in the coming years,’ says former Democratic governor

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Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Voters will choose a Republican nominee for Wisconsin governor on Tuesday who could reshape how elections are conducted in the marquee battleground, where former President Donald Trump is still pressing to overturn his 2020 loss and backing candidates he sees as allies.

Trump has endorsed businessman Tim Michels, a self-described outsider who has put $12 million into his own campaign, against former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who has support from former Vice President Mike Pence and ex-Gov. Scott Walker.

Both candidates falsely claim the 2020 election was rigged, though Kleefisch has said decertifying the results is “not constitutional,” while Michels said “everything will be on the table.” State Rep. Tim Ramthun, a third Republican in the race, has gone still further.

The backdrop: Spotlight shines brightest on Wisconsin during Tuesday’s slate of party primaries

Don’t miss: ‘Decertification’ of Trump loss to Biden in 2020 emerges as new litmus test in Republican primaries

The race to face Democratic Gov. Tony Evers is another proxy war between Trump and Pence, one-time partners now pursuing different futures for the Republican Party. They also backed opposing GOP rivals in primaries in Arizona and Georgia — swing states that like Wisconsin are expected to be critical in the 2024 presidential race, when both men could be on the ballot.

The primary comes a day after FBI agents searched Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate as part of an investigation into whether he took classified records from the White House to his Florida residence , two people familiar with the matter told the Associated Press.

In the state’s Senate race, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes is the likely Democratic nominee to face Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, one of Trump’s most vocal supporters, after Barnes’s top rivals dropped out of the race late last month. The matchup is among the last to be set before the November general election, when control of the currently 50-50 split Senate is up for grabs, and Democrats see Wisconsin as one of their best opportunities to flip a seat.

Trump also has backed a little-known challenger to the state’s most powerful Republican, state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who has rejected the former president’s pressure to decertify the 2020 results.

Tuesday’s outcomes have far-reaching consequences beyond Wisconsin, a state that is almost evenly split between Republicans and Democrats and where 2022 will be seen as a bellwether for the 2024 presidential race. The person elected governor this fall will be in office for the presidential election and will be able to sign or veto changes to election laws passed by the Republican-controlled legislature.

The next governor and U.S. senator also may sway decisions on issues from abortion to education and taxes.

“We’re a 50-50 state and so every race in Wisconsin, just by definition, is going to be decided by a few percentage points one way or another,” said former Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat. “And those few percentage points in Wisconsin may well determine what the course of the nation is in the coming years.”

Elsewhere on Tuesday, Minnesota Republicans are expected to choose Dr. Scott Jensen, a COVID-19 vaccine skeptic endorsed by the state GOP, to face Gov. Tim Walz.

Vermont — the only state to never have a woman in its congressional delegation — is likely to nominate a woman for the state’s lone House seat. The winner will replace Rep. Peter Welch, who is vying for the seat held for over four decades by Sen. Patrick Leahy, who is retiring.

And in Connecticut, Republicans will pick opponents to face two-term Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal.

But the most-watched races will be in Wisconsin, where Trump has kept up his pressure campaign to cancel President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory. Biden won by nearly 21,000 votes, four years after Trump also narrowly won the state by roughly the same margin. The 2020 outcome has been upheld in two partial recounts, a nonpartisan audit, a review by a conservative law firm and multiple lawsuits.

Both Michels and Kleefisch have said overturning the 2020 election results is not a priority. But they have said they would dismantle the bipartisan commission that runs Wisconsin elections and would support prohibitions on voters having someone else turn in their absentee ballots, as well as ballot drop boxes located anywhere other than staffed clerk offices.

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