In a year when frustrated Republicans are looking for an outsider to shake up Madison, Nicholson was the only true outsider and could not attract enough support to win. His withdrawal from the race was done in a smart and classy way such that we hope to see him remain a significant figure in Wisconsin Republican politics for years to come. With Timothy Ramthun still struggling to get more than 3% support, the primary election is really down to two Republican juggernauts — Tim Michels and Rebecca Kleefisch. Up until last week, all of the candidates had been working very hard to stay positive and focused on how bad Governor Tony Evers has been for Wisconsin. After pouring money into advertising with a message that is resonating with voters, recent poling seems to indicate that Michels is pulling into the lead. This has triggered a change in the campaign with Kleefisch and her surrogates beginning to take some negative shots at Michels.
What is really happening is a continuation of the generational and ideological clash in the Wisconsin Republican electorate. With support from the old Republican guard like Tommy Thompson and coming from the conventional Big Business-Republican symbiosis, Michels represents an older style of conservatism. With support from the new Republican guard like Scott Walker and coming from a grass roots with a sharper edge, Kleefisch represents the modern conservative mold. Both candidates come from established wings of the Wisconsin Republican Party that have been wrestling for supremacy for almost 20 years.
While not preordained, it is probable that whoever the Republican nominee is will oust Governor Evers and set the direction of the state Republican Party for years to come. Do Wisconsin’s Republicans want Thompson Republicanism or Walker Republicanism?
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