Changes in GOP endorsement process pave way for low fundraising candidates

MADISON, Wis. — The Republican Party of Wisconsin changed its endorsement rules this week to allow candidates for governor with limited fundraising the possibility to receive the party’s endorsement at the convention in Middleton later this month.

Under the new rule, if candidates are backed by three counties in different congressional districts, including their own, they can be put in the running for the endorsement. Normally candidates would have to raise $100,000 by March 15 (in the governor’s race) to be eligible for the party’s endorsement.

Late entries to the gubernatorial race can still become eligible through fundraising, but the bar is higher, according to party executive director Mark Jefferson.

“The viability standards for those late entrants are closer to $1 million that we expect them to be able to put into their campaign,” he said.

Only those candidates eligible for endorsement are allowed to speak at the convention, and all this helps Republican voters ferret out candidates among the competition, Jefferson said.

“We want as many candidates to be able to get their message out, but we also want to respect the time of the delegates and we also want to win,” he said. “We need candidates who are prepared to take the Republican message out to the voters and talk about the issues that are on peoples’ minds.”

This comes amid some tension among the Republican field for governor over the issue of the party endorsement. Kevin Nicholson, for example, said he would not vie for the endorsement.

“No endorsement” could also be on the table, Jefferson said. The party is considering a no endorsement option, but it would require a vote at the beginning of the convention to amend the party’s constitution.

The state party makes endorsements in all of the statewide constitutional offices on the ballot this fall, including lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer. The fundraising threshold for races like lieutenant governor are lower than for governor — $50,000 instead of $100,000. Jefferson said the list of candidates in the running for endorsements has not been set yet.

The state Democratic Party, on the other hand, does not endorse candidates at their convention, which will be held in La Crosse in late June.