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Wisconsin election conspiracy theorist running for governor

Capitol building in Madison, WI.
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Capitol building in Madison, WI.

A state lawmaker who has won praise from former President Donald Trump for his attempts to reverse President Joe Biden's win in Wisconsin filed paperwork Thursday to run for governor, a move that would shake up the Republican primary.

State Rep. Timothy Ramthun, a conspiracy theorist who was also disciplined last month by Republican leadership over false election claims, filed paperwork with the state creating a gubernatorial campaign committee on Thursday. The move came after his campaign website was up briefly on Wednesday before being taken down after he was contacted by news outlets.

Ramthun did not immediately return a message seeking comment Thursday. Rebecca Kleefisch, who was lieutenant governor under Scott Walker, and former U.S. Senate candidate and Marine Kevin Nicholson were already in the Republican field.

MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, also a purveyor of false claims that Trump won the 2020 election, is endorsing Ramthun and said he will appear at a Saturday rally in Wisconsin to launch Ramthun's candidacy.

“He's got the people's back and he’s been fighting for the election integrity,” Lindell said in an interview Thursday. "Wisconsin was completely devastated with the crimes of 2020 and the election."

Lindell, who became recognizable as the face of his Minnesota-based company in late-night TV ads long before he took up Trump's cry of election fraud, said Ramthun can win over Republican voters who don't believe the election was stolen because he has common sense and can be trusted.

“In Wisconsin all the machines, all the computers, the fraud was rampant," Lindell said, repeating claims that have been repeatedly shown to be false. "Do I think that’s a good reason to get behind him? Anyone to save our country, absolutely.”

Biden’s win by just under 21,000 votes has survived recounts, multiple lawsuits, an audit by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau and a review by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty. An Associated Press review of battleground states found far too few confirmed cases of fraud to tip the election for Trump.

Trump’s own attorney general also said there was no widespread election fraud.

Ramthun attended a symposium last year in South Dakota hosted by Lindell where election conspiracy theories were discussed. Michael Gableman, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice who is leading an ongoing investigation into the 2020 election, was at the same meeting.

Ramthun has called on the Legislature to rescind Wisconsin's 10 electoral votes that were awarded to Biden, a move that Republican leaders and nonpartisan attorneys for the Legislature have repeatedly said is illegal. He tried to do that most recently on Jan. 25, but fellow Republicans rebuffed him.

Ramthun has also recorded a series of videos, and made comments on podcasts, where he discusses theories about why he believes Biden did not win Wisconsin. One of those was titled “The Calm Before the Storm,” a phrase often used by followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory.

Ramthun in September participated in a rally at the Wisconsin Capitol where he joined with others in calling for a “full forensic physical and cyber audit” of the election results.

“I’m not into conspiracies,” Ramthun said in September. “I’m not into conjecture. I’m only into the truth.”

Ramthun struck that same tone in a message on his campaign website, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“I’m a servant of, by, and for the people who believes in truth, transparency, and integrity,” the website message said. “I will call for an independent full forensic physical cyber audit for the November 2022 election, beginning with my race regardless of its outcome."

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos last month removed Ramthun of his only full-time staffer after Vos said Ramthun falsely accused Vos of signing a deal with attorneys for former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to authorize absentee ballot drop boxes.

Kleefisch and Nicholson's campaigns did not immediately return messages seeking comment. They have both called for doing away with Wisconsin's bipartisan elections commission, but have not gone as far as Ramthun in attempting to undo Biden's victory. Nicholson is running as an outsider candidate, much like Ramthun, who has been the leading Republican voice in the Statehouse in trying to overturn Biden’s win.

The winner of the Aug. 9 primary will advance to take on Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. The race is a top priority for both parties given swing state Wisconsin's importance in the 2024 presidential race.

Republicans who control the Legislature are fast-tracking a host of bills changing election administration and voting rules, all of which Evers is all-but certain to veto but that other Republican candidates for governor support.

Evers has been running as a defender of democracy and the only thing standing between Republicans and an overhaul of the state's election system before the next presidential election.

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