- Associated Press - Saturday, May 21, 2022

MIDDLETON, Wis. — Wisconsin Republicans are gathering Saturday to consider whether to endorse a candidate in the hotly contested governor’s race, as some argued they shouldn’t pick a favorite before the August primary in the battleground state.

The top candidates in the governor’s race were slated to make their pitch for an endorsement to more than 1,500 delegates attending the annual convention in the Madison suburb of Middleton. But first, those delegates must decide whether to include a “no endorsement” option as suggested by one gubernatorial candidate and other activists.

Winning the endorsement requires support from 60% of delegates.

The party’s endorsement is important because it unlocks funding from the state party, which can then spend as much as it wants on the winner. Being united is all the more important when facing an incumbent such as Gov. Tony Evers in a race that’s a top priority for Democrats nationally.

The Republican Party has endorsed candidates since 2009 and winning that backing was crucial to U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson’s win in his first race in 2010. Johnson, who is up for reelection this year, was slated to address the convention before the endorsement speeches.

The gubernatorial candidates are former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who polls show is the frontrunner; construction business co-owner Tim Michels; business consultant and former Marine Kevin Nicholson; and state Rep. Timothy Ramthun.

Nicholson has advocated for no endorsement, but he still wants his name in consideration.

Whether there is an endorsement or not, voters will decide who advances to face Evers in November. The primary is Aug. 9.

Beating Evers and reelecting Johnson are top priorities for Wisconsin Republicans this year. But divisions within the party have been a distraction; Some Republicans have called for the ouster of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos for not pursuing Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud vigorously enough.

All of the GOP gubernatorial candidates have questioned the legitimacy of President Joe Biden’s win in Wisconsin.

Ramthun, whose campaign for governor is focused on decertifying Biden’s win in 2020, said recently that Vos should be prosecuted over his response to the election.

Trump will hang heavy over the two-day convention. He hasn’t endorsed anyone in the governor’s race primary, but all of the main candidates except for Nicholson have met with him to try and get his blessing.

In addition to the governor’s race, Republicans will be voting on endorsements for statewide races for lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer. The state Democratic Party convention will be June 25 in La Crosse. Democrats do not endorse.

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