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Michels, Kleefisch, make final-hours plea for votes in Wisconsin GOP governor primary

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Chuck Quirmbach
Tim Michels spoke Saturday at Veterans Park in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, while Rebecca Kleefisch spoke to supporters Sunday at a bar/restaurant in Delafield, Wisconsin.

The two main Republican candidates for Wisconsin Governor say they'll still be reaching out to voters Monday, ahead of Tuesday's primary elections.

Construction executive Tim Michels and former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch made their campaigns' closing arguments over the weekend.

It's thought that Michels and Kleefisch are in a close race, where turnout matters. Michels spent much of Saturday talking to people in east central Wisconsin, less than 24 hours after joining former President Donald Trump at a rally in Waukesha. Trump first endorsed Michels in the Governor's race two months ago. Saturday evening in Fond du Lac, Michels reenacted his version of getting that phone call.

"Hello, this is Tim," Michels began before altering his voice to mimic Trump. "Tim, this is Donald Trump. I'm going to endorse you because you're a winner, and you're a businessman, and I'm a winner, and I like," Michels then went back to his normal voice. "That's my Donald Trump impersonation," Michels said as the audience laughed.

Chuck Quirmbach
Michels supporters listen the the candidate speak in Fond du Lac.

The Michels connection to Trump is bothersome to some Republican voters, but not Fond du Lac resident Rick Jaeger.

Jaeger likes the former President and the business skills of Michels. "Because [Michels] knows business and he's been around and knows enough people, and he knows how to make deals, I think he'll take good care of Wisconsin," Jaeger said.

Connie Betz said her children went to school with Michels in nearby Lomira.

"I know the family also. It's a very, what would you call it? I would trust them with anything. I'm serious," Betz told WUWM.

Before the end of the event, Michels took on a couple of the ongoing criticisms from the Kleefisch campaign—denying that he has supported higher gas taxes, and trying to knock down an allegation being that he doesn't live in Wisconsin year-round.

Michels said he was born and raised in the state, and so were his children.

"I've left Wisconsin twice in my life. Once to serve on active [military] duty for 12 years. The other time [was] to lead the Michels Corporation's largest construction project at the time," he said.

That project was in New York City. Michels does own a $17 million home in Connecticut but says he considers a house near Hartland as his primary residence, adding that he's had a Wisconsin deer hunting tag for 33 years.

Speaking at a brew pub in Delafield Sunday, Rebecca Kleefisch referred to Michels's spending millions of dollars of his wealth on funding his political campaign.

"Who would have guessed that we could raise a record-breaking seven and a half-million dollars—an incredible amount of money—and still manage to be outspent," Kleefisch said.

Chuck Quirmbach
Rebecca Kleefisch (right) listens to supporters Sunday in Delafield.

Despite the financial challenge of campaigning against Michels, Kleefisch has strong supporters like Bob Lestina.

"She's tough. She's decisive, and I think she's going to do a lot for this state," Lestina said.

Jake Janowski likes that the Michigan-born Kleefisch has lived almost all her life in Wisconsin."She's not from Connecticut. I like the fact that she's been grass roots in Wisconsin. I like what she did with the Scott Walker Administration," Janoswki said.

Former Gov. Walker has been campaigning with Kleefisch and takes center screen of a tv commercial with her. Walker was not in Delafield as the Kleefisch campaign had promised he would be.

The campaign said a time conflict came up.

So, just Kleefisch summed up her candidacy, for news reporters: "I am the only proven, tested, conservative reformer in this race," she said.

Despite not winning Trump's endorsement, and Trump criticizing her on Friday, Kleefisch said she would appear with the former president if she wins Tuesday's primary and if he comes back to Wisconsin.

Republican gubernatorial candidates Tim Ramthun and Adam Fischer have been doing poorly in the polls but say they have active campaigns. The GOP winner will take on incumbent Democrat Gov. Tony Evers this fall.

Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August 2018. He focuses his longform stories on health, innovation, science, technology, transportation, utilities and business.
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