What to watch in Wis., 3 other states in Tuesday’s primaries

Tuesday’s Republican match-up in Wisconsin governor’s race features competing candidates endorsed by former President Donald Trump and his estranged Vice President, Mike Pence. Democrats pick a candidate to run against two-term GOP Sen. Ron Johnson for control of the closely spaced room.

Meanwhile, voters in Vermont choose a replacement for US Senator Patrick Leahy as the longest-serving member of the House retires. In Minnesota, U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar faces a Democratic primary challenger who helped beat a voter referendum to replace the Minneapolis police force with a new public safety department.

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


Construction company co-owner Tim Michels has Trump’s backing in the governor’s race and has spent millions of his own money, drawing on both the support of the former president and his long-standing commitment to building the family business into the largest Wisconsin construction company. Michels presents himself as an outsider, though he previously lost a campaign to oust then-U.S. Senator Russ Feingold in 2004 and has long been a prominent GOP donor.

Establishment Republicans, including Pence and former Governor Scott Walker, have backed former Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, who survived a 2012 recall along with Walker. She claims she has the experience and knowledge to pursue conservative priorities, including dismantling the bipartisan committee that organizes elections.

With Senate control on the line, Democrats will also make their choice to run against Johnson. Democratic support coalesced around Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes late in the race when his three biggest rivals dropped out and threw their support at him. If elected, he would become the state’s first black senator.

Several lesser-known candidates remain in the primary, but Johnson and the Republicans treated Barnes as the nominee, making him too liberal for Wisconsin, a state that Trump won in 2016 but lost in 2020.

Four Democrats are also competing in Wisconsin’s 3rd congressional district, a seat opened with the retirement of veteran Democratic US Representative Ron Kind. The district is trending Republican, and Derrick Van Orden — who narrowly lost to Kind in 2020 and has Trump’s approval — is walking unopposed.


Democratic Governor Tim Walz 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 focus of his campaign and faces token opposition.

Both men have been running a virtual campaign for months, with Jensen attacking Walz for his management of the pandemic and hammering the governor for the rising crime rate around Minneapolis. Walz has emphasized his own support for abortion rights and suggested that Jensen would pose a threat to thwart the legality of the procedure in Minnesota.

Crime has emerged as the biggest problem in Rep.’s Democratic primaries. omar. She faces a challenge from former Minneapolis city councilman Don Samuels, who opposes the police relief movement and helped defeat efforts to replace the city’s police force last year. Omar, who supported the referendum, has a significant cash advantage and is expected to benefit from a strong grassroots operation.

The most confusing part of Tuesday’s vote was for the 1st congressional district seat taken by U.S. Representative Jim Hagedorn, who died of cancer earlier this year. Republican former state representative Brad Finstad and Democrat Jeff Ettinger, a former CEO of Hormel, will compete simultaneously in the primary to determine the November matchup for the next two-year term that represents the Southern District of Minnesota, as well as a special election to the last few months to close Hagedorn’s term.


It’s been about three decades since Connecticut had a Republican in the US Senate, but the party isn’t giving up.

In the GOP’s primaries to face Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, the party has endorsed former State House minority leader Themis Klarides. She is a social moderate who supports abortion rights and certain gun control measures and says she did not vote for Trump in 2020. Klarides claims her experience and views could convince voters to oppose Blumenthal, a two-term senator who registered a 45% job approval rating in May, his lowest in a Quinnipiac poll since taking office.

Klarides is being challenged by conservative attorney Peter Lumaj and Republican National Committee member Leora Levy, which Trump endorsed last week. Both candidates are against abortion rights and further gun restrictions, and they support Trump’s policies.


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

Democratic US Representative Peter Welch, the state’s major congressman, quickly launched his bid in the Senate after Leahy revealed he was stepping down. Leahy, who is president pro tempore of the Senate, has been hospitalized several times in the past two years, including after breaking his hip this summer.

Welch is endorsed by Sanders and is the odd-on favorite to win the seat in November. He faces two other Democrats in the primaries: 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 competing for the nomination.

The race to replace Welch has delivered Vermont’s first wide-open US House campaign since 2006.

Two women, including Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray and Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, are the top Democratic candidates in the race. Gray, who was elected in her first political bid in 2020, is a lawyer and former assistant attorney general.

The winner of the Democratic primary will be the big favorite to win the general election in the liberal state. In 2018, Vermont became the last state without female representation 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 http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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