December 2, 2023

The Republican showdown in Wisconsin’s governor’s race on Tuesday features competing candidates backed by former President Donald Trump and his estranged vice president, Mike Pence. Democrats are picking a candidate to challenge two-term Sen. Ron Johnson for control of the closely divided House.

Meanwhile, Vermont voters are choosing a replacement for U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy as the chamber’s longest-serving member retires. In Minnesota, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar faces a Democratic challenger who helped defeat a referendum to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new Department of Public Safety.

What to watch in Tuesday’s primaries in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Vermont and Connecticut:


Construction company co-owner Tim Michaels has Trump’s endorsement in the governor’s race and is spending millions of his own money touting both the former president’s support and his years working to turn his family business into his largest construction company Wisconsin. Michels considers himself an outsider, though he previously lost a campaign to unseat then-Sen. Russ Feingold in 2004 and has long been a prominent GOP donor.

Establishment Republicans, including Pence and former Gov. Scott Walker, have endorsed former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who along with Walker survived a recall effort in 2012. She argues that she has the experience and knowledge to pursue conservative priorities, including dismantling the bipartisan commission that conducts elections.

With control of the Senate at stake, Democrats will also make their choice to take on Johnson. Democratic support rallied around Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes late in the race when his three leading opponents dropped out and threw their support behind him. He would become the state’s first black senator if elected.

Several lesser-known candidates remain in the primary, but Johnson and Republicans have targeted Barnes as a candidate, seeing him as too liberal for Wisconsin, a state Trump won in 2016 but lost in 2020.

Four Democrats are also running in Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District, a seat opened by the retirement of veteran Democratic U.S. Rep. Ron Kidd. The district leans Republican, and Derrick Van Orden — who narrowly lost to Kidd in 2020 and has Trump’s endorsement — is running unopposed.


Democratic Gov. Tim Walsh faces a little-known opponent as he seeks a second term. His likely challenger is Republican Scott Jensen, a physician and former state legislator who has made vaccine skepticism a centerpiece of his campaign and faces symbolic opposition.

Both men have been running a virtual campaign for months, with Jensen attacking Walz over his handling of the pandemic and hammering the governor for rising crime in Minneapolis. Walz underscored his own support for abortion rights and suggested that Jensen would pose a threat to delegitimize the procedure in Minnesota.

Crime has emerged as the biggest issue in Rep. Omar’s Democratic Party primary. He faces a challenge from former Minneapolis City Councilman Don Samuels, who opposes the movement to defund police and last year helped defeat efforts to replace the city’s police department. Omar, who supported the referendum, has a significant financial advantage and is expected to benefit from a strong grassroots business.

The most confusing part of Tuesday’s ballot was for the 1st District congressional seat held by U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn, who died earlier this year of cancer. Republican former state Rep. Brad Finstad and Democrat Jeff Ettinger, a former Hormel CEO, are competing simultaneously in the primary to determine November’s matchup for the next two-year term representing Minnesota’s southern district, as well as a special election for the completion of the last few months of Hagedorn’s term.


It’s been nearly three decades since Connecticut has had a Republican in the U.S. Senate, but the party isn’t giving up.

In the GOP primary to take on Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, the party endorsed former House Minority Leader Themis Claridis. She is a social moderate who supports abortion rights and some gun control measures and says she did not vote for Trump in 2020. Claridis argues that her experience and positions can persuade voters to oppose Blumenthal, a two-term senator which in May registered 45% employment. approval rating, the lowest in a Quinnipiac poll since he took office.

Claridis is being challenged by conservative attorney Peter Lumaj and Republican National Committeewoman Leora Levy, whom Trump endorsed last week. Both candidates oppose abortion rights and further gun restrictions and support Trump’s policies.


Leahy’s impending retirement has opened up two seats in Vermont’s tiny three-member congressional delegation — and the opportunity for the state to send a woman to represent it in Washington for the first time.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, the state’s at-large representative, quickly launched his Senate bid after Leahy announced he was stepping down. Leahy, who is the Senate president pro tempore, has been hospitalized a few times over the past two years, including after breaking his hip this summer.

Welch has been endorsed by Sanders and is the odds-on favorite to win the seat in November. He faces two other Democrats in the primary: Isaac Evans-Frantz, an activist, and Dr. Niki Thran, an emergency physician.

On the Republican side, former US Attorney Christina Nolan, retired US Army officer Gerald Malloy and investment banker Myers Mermel are vying for the nomination.

The race to replace Welch marked Vermont’s first open U.S. campaign since 2006.

Two women, including Lt. Gov. Molly Gray and State Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Ballin, are the leading Democratic candidates in the race. Gray, who was elected in 2020 in her first political bid, is an attorney and former assistant attorney general.

The winner of the Democratic primary will be the heavy favorite to win the general election in the liberal state. In 2018, Vermont became the last state without a female representative in Congress when Mississippi Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith was appointed to the Senate.


Associated Press writers Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin. Doug Glass in Minneapolis; Susan Haigh in Hartford, Connecticut. and Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vermont, contributed to this report.


Meg Kinnard can be reached at

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