Political expert explains where Kleefisch fell short in GOP primary for governor

MADISON, Wis. — One of the big takeaways from Tuesday’s primary election was the margin by which Tim Michels defeated Rebecca Kleefisch in the Republican race for governor.

Michels won by five points, despite polling much closer over the past few months.

RELATED: Michels wins, Kleefisch concedes in Republican primary for Wisconsin governor

In the last days before the primary, key Republican figures threw their weight behind the two frontrunners, with former President Donald Trump endorsing Michels and former Vice President Mike Pence and former Governor Scott Walker endorsing Kleefisch.

Dr. Paul Nolette, a political science expert at Marquette University, said the race shows that two years after leaving the White House, Trump’s opinion on what’s going on in Wisconsin still plays a role.

“Trump remains the most influential figure within the Republican Party, both here in Wisconsin and nationwide,” he said.

That remains the case even in the Milwaukee suburbs the Kleefisch campaign thought it had locked down.

“While she won two of those counties, it was only very narrow, so she didn’t get the votes that she needed to in those counties, and I think that had a lot to do with Trump’s endorsement,” Nolette said.

Despite Michels’ late entry into the race, he pulled through in a lot of other areas of the state as well, Nolette said.

“Michaels was also able to pour a lot of his own money into this array,” he said, “so even though he got a late start, he was able to get his message out, have lots of advertisements and kind of chip away at Kleefisch’s lead.”

As the focus now shifts to defeating incumbent Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, Nolette said Michels will need to use similar strategies if he wants to win.

“One of the big things that he’s going to do, he already telegraphed in his victory speech last night, which is a focus on the economy, I think that’s going to be his big pitch,” Nolette said. “So even though there’s not a whole lot of time between now and November — about 13 weeks — I do think that Republicans will be largely united going into the November elections. So not surprisingly, I would expect a very close race, like we typically see here in Wisconsin.”