December 8, 2023

Tim Michels is on the attack in the days leading up to Wisconsin’s GOP gubernatorial primary, with an ad this week accusing his opponent of not initially endorsing Donald Trump in 2016 — even though it emerged Thursday that he michels did not vote in this primary.

Michels launched the attack ad against Rebecca Kleefisch just days after she said running negative ads is “just bad politics” and that politicians who do it are “losing.”

The ad accuses Kleefisch of not endorsing Trump in the 2016 primaries and calls her “Madison’s ultimate secret.” Kleefisch, who is endorsed by former Vice President Mike Pence, is a former two-term lieutenant governor. Michels co-owns the state’s largest construction company, Michels Corp.

And while Michels attacked Kleefisch for not endorsing Trump in 2016, records show Michels did not vote in that primary.

“I lost the Primary, but I didn’t lose the movement,” Michels said in a statement to The Associated Press. Michels said he missed the primary because of “a sudden, unforeseen major issue regarding the Michels Corporation’s major construction project in New York.”

Michels said Trump has always been his top choice and has never campaigned for or endorsed anyone else, unlike Clefis.

The winner of Tuesday’s primary will advance to face Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in one of the toughest elections in the country this year, with implications for that state’s 2024 presidential race. Evers has blocked efforts by the Republican-controlled legislature to change election laws and enact a number of other conservative policies.

Michels’ ad, released Thursday by the Democratic Governors Association, began airing earlier this week after Michels said in a televised town hall that “I’ve never had a negative ad from my campaign in this race.

“And the reason is we’ve never had a single job talking bad about the competition,” said Michels, co-owner of energy and pipeline company Michels Corp. “And the reason is that it’s just bad politics, and if you get a reputation for doing that in my industry … people immediately disrespect you.”

It wasn’t the first time Michels took a stand against negative ads. In July, after Kleefisch released the first of a series of attack ads against Michels, he came out strongly against her.

“When politicians are shocked to find themselves losing, they go negative out of desperation,” Michels said on July 6. “So it is unfortunate that the former Lt. Governor decided to go negative following politics as usual.”

Michels spokesman Chris Walker defended the attack ad, saying Thursday it came in response to commercials by Kleefisch and her supporters.

“The tone of the campaign was set by her after weeks and millions spent lying and attacking Tim,” Walker said. “When your opponent has been doing this for weeks, it can’t go unanswered forever.”

Kleefisch spokesman Alec Zimmerman said Michels’ negative was a sign that Kleefisch “has all the momentum.”

The attack ad comes amid a surge toward the election, with Pence campaigning on Wednesday for Kleefisch, calling her a “proven conservative.” Kleefisch served as lieutenant governor under then-Gov. Scott Walker and has garnered endorsements from Walker, legislative leaders, dozens of Republican lawmakers and others.

Michels is an outsider, and Trump has planned a rally Friday in Waukesha County, just 3 miles from where Pence showed up for Clefis, as part of a final push.

Michels notes in his ad that Kleefisch did not endorse Trump in 2016. She, along with Walker, supported Cruz who won the Wisconsin primary that year. Cruz has endorsed Kleefisch this year. After Trump became the candidate, Kleefisch endorsed him in 2016 and 2020.

Michels’ position on Trump also changed this week. At a town hall Monday, he refused to pledge to support Trump if he ran for president in 2024. But less than 24 hours later, Michels reversed himself.

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