Expert: Trump endorsement will have ‘major effect’ on governor’s race

MADISON, Wis. — Former President Donald Trump’s endorsement of Tim Michels in the Republican primary for governor fundamentally changes the race, according to UW-La Crosse political science professor Anthony Chergosky.

“Here we have Tim Michels entering the race in April going right to the top of the field, I think this endorsement is going to make Tim Michels the front runner,” he said.

In his endorsement of the construction business owner, Trump said Michels is “an America First Conservative.”

“Wisconsin needs a governor who will stop inflation, uphold the rule of law, strengthen our borders,” Trump said in a statement. “Tim Michels is the best candidate to deliver meaningful solutions to these problems, and he will produce jobs like no one else can even imagine.”

RELATED: Trump endorses Michels in GOP primary for Wisconsin gubernatorial race

The endorsement is a blow to the rest of the Republican field who were all vying for the former president’s endorsement. It likely comes as a particular shock to former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who emerged from last month’s state party convention as the likely frontrunner.

“I think you might see some candidates adjusting their strategies,” said Chergosky. “I’m particularly interested in what Rebecca Kleefisch does because something isn’t working for Rebecca Kleefisch.”

He said Kleefisch has not quite resonated with voters in the eight months she has campaigned, especially compared to the quick attention Michels has gotten in the six weeks he has been in the race. If Kleefisch tries to make any course correction, though, Chergosky said it needs to be soon.

“With the Trump endorsement, that comes along at a pretty key point in the campaign,” he said, “as voters are starting to tune in as they’re starting to form their impressions of the candidates as they are starting to decide who they’re going to vote for in August.”

He added though that Michels still has to capitalize on the endorsement — not just passively mention it, but rather use it to engage the Trump-faithful voters in Wisconsin.

“If you have a candidate who can take advantage of all of those things, I think the endorsement really does matter,” he said.

Michels and Kleefisch will face Kevin Nicholson and Tim Ramthun in the Aug. 9 primary.