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In Wisconsin Primary, G.O.P. Voters Call for Decertifying 2020 Election

SHEBOYGAN, Wisconsin — When she began her campaign for governor of Wisconsin, former Republican Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch acknowledged that President Biden had been legitimately elected.

She returned quickly. Finally she said that the 2020 elections was “rigged” against former President Donald J. Trump. She sued the state election commission.

But she still won’t harbor the false notion that the election can somehow be reversed, a fantasy that has gripped many of the state’s Republicans, fueled by one of her opponents, Tim Ramthun.

And for that, she takes grief from voters in the final days before Tuesday’s primary.

During a campaign shutdown here last week, a voter, Donette Erdmann, pressed Ms. Kleefisch her endorsement of former Vice President Mike Pence, who blame many of Mr Trump’s most devoted supporters for not blocking the vote counting. on January 6. , 2021. “I was wondering if you’re going to resort to a RINO agenda or a great agenda,” said Ms. Erdmann, using a right-wing pejorative for disloyal Republicans.

Ms Kleefisch’s stunned response – “don’t make a decision based on what someone else is doing,” she warned, defending her “great agenda” – wasn’t enough.

“I’m going with Tim Ramthun,” Mrs. Erdmann said afterwards.

Ms. Kleefisch’s predicament illustrates how Mr Trump’s supporters have become outraged at his 2020 election loss and the misguided belief that its results could be negated in central campaign issues in the Republican primary for governor in Wisconsin, a battleground that wafer-thin margins are won in the last two presidential elections. GOP candidates have been given a choice whether to tell voters they are wrong or engage in the fiction that something can be done to reverse Mr Trump’s defeat.

Dozens of Republican voters and activists interviewed across the state over the past week said they wanted lawmakers to decertify the state’s election results and reclaim the 10 electoral votes, something they can’t legally do. Nearly all pointed to a July decision by the conservative-minded Wisconsin Supreme Court, which ruled that drop boxes used to collect ballots during the pandemic were illegal under state law, proving that hundreds of thousands of votes must be thrown out before 2020.

“Everyone I spoke to voted for Trump,” said Cyndy Deeg, a food industry worker from Larsen, Wisconsin. “He needs to be reinstated and resume the position, because he never gave up on it.”

There is no mechanism in Wisconsin law or federal law for a state to withdraw electoral votes or undo presidential elections two years after the contest, a fact Ms. Kleefisch finds herself explaining to voters, reporters, and the public from televised debates.

Her main Wisconsin ally, former Governor Scott Walker, said Republicans wanted to move beyond discussing Trump’s defeat two years ago.

“Across the country, a lot of people who love what the president did are starting to get tired of hearing about 2020 and want to focus on winning 2022 and 2024,” Walker said in an interview.

But even as Ms. Kleefisch campaigns to restrict voting access and eliminate the bipartisan Wisconsin Election Commission, two Republican rivals pledge to do that and more.

Tim Michels, a wealthy construction magnate who has been criticized for send his kids to school in New York and Connecticutwhere he owns a $17 million house endorsed by mr. Trump and says that if chosen, he will consider legislation to decertify the 2020 results. Mr Ramthun is the biggest proponent of state decertification but polls show he is chasing Ms Kleefisch and Mr Michels, who are in a tight race?.

The primary winner will take on Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat who has vetoed more than a dozen ballots passed by the Republican-controlled legislature in the past two years. Due to the GOP’s large majority in the gerrymandered Legislature, a Republican governor would be given a wide margin to change how the state casts votes and counts in the 2024 presidential election.

Mr. Michels, who has covered the airwaves in Wisconsin with… ads that remind voters Trump’s choice has learned that running as a candidate, backed by the former president, comes with certain obligations.

Twice in recent weeks, he has reversed statements that deviated from the Trump wing doctrine.

First, during a debate, Mr. Michels said that decertifying the results of the 2020 Wisconsin presidential election — which Mr. Trump himself has repeatedly urged the top Republican in the State Assembly for — would not be a priority in his administration. He soon corrected himself by saying he was “very, very excited about this issue of electoral integrity” and promised to consider signing a decertification bill if lawmakers pass one.

Then, during a debate in the style of a town hall on Monday night, Mr. Michels was asked whether he would support a 2024 presidential bid from Mr. Trump.

“I am now focused on this election,” he said. “I have made no commitments to candidates in 2024.”

Trump supporters saw the comments as a betrayal of the former president, and the next day, Mr Michels corrected himself.

“The day President Trump announces that he will run for president in 2024, if he does, I will support him and I will support him,” he told supporters in Kaukauna on Tuesday.

Mr. Michels refused to explain the flip-flop. “I talked about it last night,” he said after the Kaukauna stop, as his assistants and… supporters physically pushed reporters away from the candidate.

Complicating matters for both Ms. Kleefisch and Mr. Michels is Mr. Ramthun, a state councilor whose campaign for governor scores low in the polls but is highly regarded by the state’s most devoted conspiracy theorists. It was Mr Ramthun, in February, who took the lead in the decertification attempt after Robin Vos, the Speaker of the Assembly, prevented his proposal for a “cyberforensic audit” of the 2020 elections will no longer be able to vote.

Mr Ramthun’s campaign is infused with Christian nationalism and presents him as a messianic figure who will lead the state to correct what he presents as the injudicious election results of 2020.

“I am what you have been looking for for decades,” he said during Monday’s debate.

Mr. Vos has aggressively attempted to restrict access to votes in Wisconsin. In addition to passing the bills that Mr. Evers vetoed, he last year called for charges against five members of the state election guidance committee they issued for voting during the pandemic, which he said violated state election law. He also ordered a $1 million investigation into the 2020 election, led by a former state Supreme Court judge, who endorsed debunked conspiracy theories.

But as with Ms. Kleefisch, Mr. Fox’s refusal to allow a decertification vote has exposed him to attack – in his case from a primary challenger, Adam Steen, who has no paid staff and barely enough money. to print and send his campaign literature.

mr. Steen, who was approved on Tuesday by Mr. Trump and got an excellent talk at an hour Trump rally on Friday night in Waukeshahas built his campaign around decertifying the election and has also said he would try to make contraception illegal.

During a lunch of cheeseburgers and cheese curdMr. Steen said he would not have challenged Mr. Fox if Mr. Trump had been re-elected.

“Without the knowledge I have now, I don’t think I would run, because it wouldn’t have been exposed,” said Mr. Steen, who drives a Lincoln Town Car with a commemorative license plate from the 2017 presidential inauguration that says “TROMP.” “I don’t think there was that catalyst to see those problems without him losing.”

Mr Vos did not want to be interviewed. After Mr Trump approved Mr Steen, Mr Vos issued a statement reiterating that decertification is impossible.

The party’s base is not convinced.

in April, a poll of Marquette University Law School found that 39 percent of state Republicans supported decertification. Since then, the momentum for decertification has increased, especially after the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision. The President of the Assembly Election Commissionalong with dozens of state Republican parties, have called for the election to be repealed.

Dennis Gasper, the finance director of the Sheboygan County Republican Party, which last month passed a resolution calling on lawmakers to withdraw the state’s 10 electoral college votes, said he believed elected officials and Ms. resist voters’ decertification calls to save themselves grief in the news media.

“You know, the press is very powerful, and if they said what they thought, they’d be taken for a fool,” Gasper said.

Mrs. Kleefisch is left behind as she tries to navigate a party that, not long ago, considered her local royalty.

A former Milwaukee television reportershe was the deputy to Governor Scott Walker when he prompted Wisconsin Republicans to revoke the collective bargaining rights of most public employees, a political earthquake in state politics that led to weeks of protests and ultimately the power of the Democrats here for a generation undermined.

In two interviews last week, she dismissed ideas that she had crossed Mr. Trump or that his endorsement of Mr. Michels would be decisive. She said she still supported the former president and praised his policies, although she would not commit to supporting him in 2024.

But she acknowledged that the issue that most fuels Republicans in Wisconsin in the current post-Trump era is not grounded in reality.

I’m not saying the passion is imaginary, I’m not saying the distrust is imaginary,” she said after her Sheboygan break. “I’m saying that the idea that you can reject the constitution and statutes and do things that aren’t written into the law anywhere is a lost cause, and there’s no path articulated to do that.”

Mr. Michels and Mr. Ramthun, she said, are playing with fire by telling voters they will deliver something impossible.

“It’s irresponsible to admit,” she said. “You have to tell the truth.”

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