MIDDLETON, Wis. — Wisconsin Republicans voted Saturday not to endorse anyone for governor ahead of the GOP primary in August, with former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch falling just short of the 60% needed to get the nod — and cash — that comes with winning the party’s official backing.
It marked the first time delegates have not endorsed a candidate for governor. Many activists, and one of Kleefisch’s rivals, had argued for not endorsing anyone, saying it would fracture the party.
Kleefisch got 55%, while “no endorsement” got 43% on the final ballot. The other candidates were all in the single digits.
I’m not there, so I don’t have a personal feel for the mood of the delegates. Judging from comments on social media, Michels and Nicholson supporters were pushing for no endorsement because they knew that their respective candidates could not win it. I don’t know what Ramthun’s supporters were up to. In the end, no other candidate was strong enough to deny Kleefisch the endorsement, but there were enough people who did not want to risk fracturing the party.
What does it mean? I think that Michels and Nicholson miscalculated. They are both running on the “outsider” ticket and are trying to paint Kleefisch as the “insider.” But by managing to deny her the endorsement, Kleefisch doesn’t appear to be the insider that they are trying to portray her as. Meanwhile, Kleefisch has still demonstrated strong support from core Republicans with a solid 55% showing. Michels and Nicholson would have been better off pushing to get Kleefisch the nomination (quietly, of course), so that they could hang it like a millstone around her neck during the election. As it is, they helped muddy the insider/outsider dynamic.
There is the practical matter that the endorsement brings with it official support from the Republican Party including money and party resources. But given Kleefisch’s strong support, she’s likely to get all the help she needs anyway from the state and county party functionaries.