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Poll: Rebecca Kleefisch and Tim Michels poised for GOP gubernatorial primary matchup

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Less than two months before the August primary, GOP gubernatorial candidates Tim Michels and Rebecca Kleefisch are neck and neck at the top of a packed field of Republicans seeking to oust incumbent Democratic Gov. Tony Evers this fall, according to the latest Marquette Law School Poll.

The poll, released Wednesday, finds that 27% of Republican primary voters support Michels, the millionaire co-owner of Brownsville-based Michels Corp., while 26% support former Lt. Gov. Kleefisch, setting the stage for a tight race between the two GOP candidates. The poll has a margin of error of 6.3% among GOP primary voters, and 32% of respondents remain undecided, down from 46% of respondents in April.

Tim Michels

Michels

“The takeaway here is that Michels’ entry into the race has put him in a very close competition for the lead with Rebecca Kleefisch,” poll director Charles Franklin said. “A one-point difference doesn’t mean very much when you think of that margin of error. So a close, close race here.”

However, polling also finds Evers holding a slight edge in head-to-head matchups with the four major Republicans in the race. The winner of the Aug. 9 primary will go on to face Evers in the Nov. 8 election.

The Democratic governor was the pick of 47% of respondents in a head-to-head scenario with Kleefisch, who received 43% support. Against Michels, who had not previously been featured in a Marquette poll, Evers held a 48-41 advantage. Evers also fared better against former Marine Kevin Nicholson (48-40) and state Rep. Timothy Ramthun, R-Campbellsport (51-34).

Rebecca Kleefisch

Kleefisch

“Rebecca Kleefisch is the best Republican candidate to beat Tony Evers this fall,” Kleefisch’s campaign manager Charles Nichols said in a statement.

The latest poll found Nicholson receiving 10% of support from Republican primary voters, the same he received in April, while Ramthun’s support went from 4% to 3%.

While Kleefisch’s support declined six points from 32% in April, Franklin said that’s not necessarily a result of Michels joining the race.

“Michels’ entry seems to have drawn substantial support from the folks who were undecided rather than taking away support from the other candidates,” Franklin said.

Michels joined the race in late April and earlier this month secured an endorsement from Donald Trump. The former president still holds considerable sway over Republican voters, and political experts believe his endorsement could provide a significant boost for Michels in a packed GOP primary in August.

What’s more, delegates attending the Republican Party of Wisconsin’s annual convention last month chose not to endorse a candidate in several statewide races, including for governor. The decision means the state party will not provide funding or resources to a preferred candidate until after a nominee is selected in the Aug. 9 primary.

While none of the gubernatorial candidates received enough votes to secure the party’s endorsement, Kleefisch easily won the majority of votes, coming in just about six percentage points short of the 60% needed for an endorsement. Ramthun, Nicholson and Michels each received less than 6%.

Kleefisch, who served eight years under former Gov. Scott Walker, joined the race back in September, while Nicholson and Ramthun announced campaigns earlier this year.

Michels’ campaign manager Patrick McNulty said in a statement the latest poll “reflects what we have been seeing and hearing all across the state.”

“Tim Michels is the only candidate running to defeat Tony Evers who leads large teams to accomplish big things, and that’s what he’ll do as governor,” McNulty said.

The poll found 48% approve of Evers’ job as governor, compared with 45% disapproving, marking little change from April.

The June poll also found that 67% of Republicans were very enthused about voting this fall compared with 58% of Democratic voters. Only 35% of independents are very enthusiastic to vote.

“As of today, Republicans do have an advantage in enthusiasm and if that translated into turnout that would make them more competitive in the races they’re behind in,” Franklin said.

U.S. Senate

Mandela Barnes

Barnes

In the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, where a packed field of candidates are vying for the chance to unseat GOP U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes is supported by 25% of primary voters, up from 19% in April.

And 21% support Milwaukee Bucks executive-on-leave Alex Lasry, up from 16% in April. State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski saw her support increase from 7% in April to 9% this month, while Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson’s support increased from 5% to 7%. Still, 36% of respondents had no preference, indicating a still wide-open race.

Alex Lasry

Lasry

In head-to-head matchups with Johnson, Barnes received 46% to Johnson’s 44%, Godlewski received 45% to Johnson’s 43%, Lasry received 42% to Johnson’s 45% and Nelson received 44% to Johnson’s 43%.

“All of these are well within the margin of error but they show that, compared to the governor’s race, the senate race does appear to be a bit tighter,” Franklin said.

Johnson’s favorability was largely unchanged from the previous poll, sitting at 37% this month, compared with 46% viewing him unfavorably.

Election confidence

June’s poll shows little change among respondents in confidence in the accuracy of the 2020 presidential election, with 67% saying they are very or somewhat confident that votes were accurately cast and counted, compared with 32% who are not too confident or not at all confident.

Among Republicans, 65% of respondents are either not at all confident or not too confident in the 2020 election’s results. Among Democrats, 90% are very confident, while another 5% are somewhat confident. And among independents, 51% are very confident in the elections results, 19% are somewhat confident, 3% are not too confident, and 26% are not at all confident.

The poll included 803 registered voters interviewed by telephone June 14-20 and has an overall margin of error of 4.3%. Margins of error were 6.3% for the GOP primary and 6.2% for the Democratic primary.

Other issues

Other results from the June Marquette poll include:

  • 75% of respondents say they are very concerned with inflation, 58% are very concerned with abortion policy, 56% are very concerned with gun violence, 47% are very concerned with health care, and 18% remain very concerned with COVID-19.
  • 81% support “red-flag laws,” which allow police to take firearms away from people found by a judge to be a danger to themselves or others, while 13% oppose such laws.
  • 79% support mandatory background checks on people making gun purchases at gun shows or through private sales, while 16% are opposed.
  • 56% support raising the minimum age for purchasing a gun to 21, while 38% would keep the minimum age at 18.
  • 44% say they know someone who identifies as transgender, while 55% do not.
  • 46% say they favor laws banning discrimination based on whether a person is transgender, while 39% oppose such laws, and 13% say they don’t know.
  • 62% say athletes should only be allowed to compete on teams that match their birth gender, while 22% say they support participation by athletes on teams that match their gender identity and 14% say they don’t know.
  • 66% say water quality issues are a statewide concern, while 24% see it as an issue only in isolated parts of the state.
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