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EXCLUSIVE: With two weeks to go until Wisconsin’s primary, former conservative Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch is getting the backing of one of the biggest names in her party right as she fights for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in the race to face off in November in the key battleground state with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.
Kleefisch on Tuesday was endorsed by conservative firebrand Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, in an announcement shared first with Fox News.
“I’m proud to endorse Rebecca Kleefisch for governor of Wisconsin. Rebecca will fight for a stronger economy, school choice so parents are back in charge of their kids’ education, and she will work to protect Life and our Second Amendment. I ask my fellow conservatives to join me in supporting Rebecca’s campaign for governor today!” Cruz emphasized in a statement.
Kleefisch, who served eight years as lieutenant governor under former Gov. Scott Walker, is one of the two polling front-runners in the GOP primary, along with Tim Michels – a multimillionaire owner of a construction company who in early June was endorsed by former President Trump. The field of four Republican candidates also includes state lawmaker Timothy Ramthun. Retired Marine Kevin Nicholson suspended his GOP campaign for governor earlier this month.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
In announcing the endorsement, Kleefisch highlighted that “Senator Cruz knows the fight Wisconsin is up against on the federal level and knows our state needs a strong, proven leader as governor to fight against Bidenflation and for our pro-life and pro-2nd Amendment values.”
Cruz’s endorsement of Kleefisch puts him at odds with Trump in another high-profile GOP primary – after they backed rival candidates in Republican Senate nomination showdowns earlier this year in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Cruz, who was the runner-up to Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential nomination race and who may face Trump again in 2024 if both launch White House bids, backed former Ohio state treasurer Josh Mandel in the Buckeye State’s GOP Senate primary. Mandel came in second to the Trump-endorsed J.D. Vance in a crowded field of Republican candidates in the state’s early May primary. In Pennsylvania, Cruz endorsed Dave McCormick, who was narrowly edged out by the Trump-backed Mehmet Oz – in another large field of GOP contenders – in a nomination that wasn’t settled until a couple of weeks after the primary.
Former Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch speaks with a voter in Sturtevant, WI, on July 17, 2022. Kleefisch is one of the front-runners in the GOP gubernatorial nomination race in Wisconsin’s Aug. 9 primary. (Rebecca Kleefisch campaign)
Kleefisch, along with Ramthun, earlier this year trekked to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida in hopes of landing his support. However, Kleefisch told Fox News a day after the former president’s backing of Michels that “Donald Trump says he likes winners, and I’m the only person in this race who’s won statewide. In fact, I’ve won statewide four times.”
In touting her record in office, Kleefisch said she’ll continue to “make my case based on my established credentials of being a conservative reformer. I was lieutenant governor during the conservative policy revolution that had everyone looking at Wisconsin.”
Kleefisch landed the backing in May of another potential 2024 GOP presidential contender – former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who served as ambassador to the United Nations during the Trump administration.
Haley traveled to Wisconsin a couple of weeks ago to join Kleefisch on the campaign trail and has helped fundraise for the former lieutenant governor.
Paul Steinhauser is a politics reporter based in New Hampshire.